Twelve Things about Safe
12. The Terminator franchise may own the line "Come with me if you want to live," but it wasn't the first and won't be the last Action movie which rides on the same desperate dynamic. An instant bond between total strangers can be great--and it is the main thing that makes the brutality of Safe almost bearable.
But our two strangers certainly take their sweet time finding each other, and this doesn't do the plot any favours.
11. Are you surprised that the "leading lady" of this picture is a preteen girl? Ever since I read a prediction on The Partial Objects blog that the next generation of Action heroes would be little girls, I've actually been expecting it. =P
That aside, I think that Mei, a mathematical prodigy kidnapped from her native China to make calculations for gangsters in New York City's Chinatown, is pretty believable. (Yes, I know how that sentence sounds.)
10. What totally killed me, though, was that Mei manages to learn conversational, idiomatic American English after living in Chinatown for a single year. When did she get to interact with someone who wasn't constantly speaking Chinese? Yes, I know she's a genius, but it's still a bit much.
Yet it's not as crazy as another moment in which mastery of a foreign language becomes essential to the plot. Writers shouldn't be allowed to strain credulity as much as they do here.
9. Where there is a little girl, there must be a father figure. (You have no idea what it's costing me not to go all "The Last Pyschiatrist" on this.) Mei gets more than one, but of course, only one is "legitimate." And no, it's not the man who was married to her mother, because he forfeits all claim to her when he abandons the family. Instead, it is the lone adult male who doesn't want to use Mei for personal gain. Surprise, surprise: he's played by Jason Statham.
But I must confess that a part of me that isn't too comfy with international adoption wonders whether Mei would've turned out okay with the Triad henchman who guides her through her role in the "family" business.
8. Until Mei and her "true" father meet, their stories are on opposite trajectories. For all the injustice of her situation, she is arguably rising in the world--while he, having been dealt an even crappier hand, is falling . . . dragged down by the weight of a thousand cliches. It's as if the writers couldn't pick a single Action movie stock character for their hero, and so let him try on as many hats as possible. That is why Luke Wright is a former cage fighter, a former cop, and a former black ops agent.
In short, his coolness is unimpeachable; his badassery, on the level of 80s awesomeness; his story, TOTALLY BOGUS BS. Wright could have killed every one of his wife's murderers the second he found them standing over her body--and he could have found an alternative career other than cage fighter when he decided that being the mayor's "garbage man" was no longer for him. The choices he makes are so absurd that other characters remark on their craziness. But the audience is just supposed to accept that Wright is deep.
7. Admittedly, there's some clumsy religious subtext in some early scenes which hints that Wright is suffering voluntarily in order to atone for past misdeeds. You know I'm all about that sort of thing in a story, but I don't think Statham's acting or the script itself pull the concept off.
6. If I could change only one thing about this movie, I would remove the scene in which one of the villains taunts Wright about his dead wife. It is suggested that the late Mrs. Wright was overweight--and that Wright wasn't superficial enough to let that stop him from falling in love with her sense of humour. What, pray tell, does that revelation do for the story? Or for Wright's character?
But greater implications are piling up . . . Would Wright's suffering have been reduced if his wife had been gorgeous? Would he be less heroic if he had fallen in love with a thin girl? Are women so shallow that we can only get behind a character if we think we have a shot at being asked out by him???
5. Before I go any further, let me praise what is worthy: Safe is a well-shot movie. (Pun not intended. Ha!) The camera shakes a bit, but not spastically so. The choreography of the fight scenes can be judged fairly. I don't know about you, but I appreciate that in an Action movie. =)
4. I also liked being able to follow the plot. When an Action movie involves the uncovering of a secret conspiracy, several double-crossing characters, and more than one shocking twist in the tale, I usually lose the thread halfway through. Then I just sit back and tolerate the fight scenes. Safe has an intelligible plot . . . and more than tolerable fight scenes.
3. But oh, the brutality . . . It didn't take long for me to stop thinking, "Mei is going to be so messed up," and to start thinking, "I wonder how much they messed up Catherine Chan." Even those who know that it's all make believe can be taken aback (to say the least) by the darkness that comes out of someone's imagination. And fight choreographers can be as dark as they are creative.
2. So why put up with it at all? One of my favourite lines from the movie addresses that . . .
"It's amazing what people let you get away with when you make them feel safe and protected."
What a telling thing to say! But don't strain so much at the historical context that you miss the real moral question. If it is wrong for us to let the people in charge of our security get away with murder, as long as no one murders us, then doesn't that mean that Mei is also wrong to trust Wright with her life?
And in case you still thought that the Little Girl Leading Lady is just another gimmick, you now see how essential it is to the ending. For what keeps the movie from collapsing under the weight of its own moral is the fact that Mei is a minor who cannot be held accountable for what her guardian does to protect her.
1. But I am not a minor. So is it wrong for me to wish for a sequel? =P I'd really love to see the next chapter of Mei's story. For yes, this was always Mei's story.
Image Source: Safe poster