Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is a transporter based in France, a criminal for hire who asks no questions and "transports" things for money. Today he's acting as a getaway driver and when he pulls up outside the bank in his customised car, his feathers are ruffled when four bank robbers get into his car instead of the agreed three. He politely protests this and refuses to budge until one man leaves, so the leader shoots one of his men, who is bundled out of the car, and a chase through the streets ensues with the police in hot pursuit. And as Frank is so good at his job, it doesn't take long for him to evade capture - but he won't always be so professional...
There aren't many British action heroes outside of James Bond, but Statham made his move to be one of them with The Transporter. With his accent and lack of hair he probably wouldn't have been considered for the role of 007, but it seems he found his niche playing Frank, and was at least more successful than the likes of Craig Fairbrass. This film did fairly well at the box office, but it's on home video that it really took off, proving popular enough to spin off an even more successful sequel in 2005, the imaginatively named Transporter 2. And as action goes, the original is a no nonsense effort.
Well, actually it's a lots of nonsense effort, but it's generally carried of with a businesslike élan by Hong Kong director Corey Yuen. Frank is almost prissy in his insistence on playing by his rules - never look in the package, never ask or give names, that sort of thing - but of course he has to have a flaw in his character which really shows what a nice guy he is after all. In this case, it's when he's transporting a package and his fancy motor gets a flat tyre, so he goes into the back to fetch a spare. It's then that he can't help notice that the package is not only human sized, but also moving.
Yes, it's a person, a young lady by the name of Lai (Shu Qi), although exactly why it wouldn't be easier to carry her in the front seat is never made apparent. In fact, why bother with the services of Frank at all? Apart from there being no film if they didn't, of course. Anyway, he stops to allow Lai to relieve herself, but he's tricked by her and she makes a bolt for freedom, only to be swiftly recaptured. But there's a complication when they get back to the car: two policemen have taken an interest in Frank's vehicle and have to be disabled, ending up stuffed in the back of the car along with Lai (big car!). So while Frank eventually makes it to his destination, there are more complications ahead.
The baddies have left a nasty surprise in a new package and Frank luckily escapes with his life. Now he's after revenge and after half an hour of footling around the real plot has arrived. This was one of the umpteen Luc Besson productions of the 1990s and 2000s, and also one of the action movies he wrote the script for (with Robert Mark Kamen) and has all the trademarks, a touch of humour here, a slick action sequence there, a spot of romanticism for colour. It also has a homosexualist element in the display of big muscle men grappling with each other, especially in the bit where they get all oiled up in a bus station, but it's all in fun. If anything, you're just settling down to The Transporter when suddenly it's all over, but it's perfectly serviceable otherwise. Tinny music by Stanley Clarke.
In the nineties, he directed Jet Li in films like The Legend, The Defender and The Enforcer, which led to work as action choreographer on many of Li's Hollywood films, including The One, Kiss of the Dragon and Cradle 2 the Grave. Most recently, Yuen directed the Luc Besson-produced action hit The Transporter.