YAMAKASI - LES SAMOURAIS DES TEMPS MODERNES (2001)
Directed by Ariel Zeitoun and Julien Seri
Available through Just For the Hell of It
I'll admit it, I think Parkour is cool. No really. And yes, I watch the X-GAMES on TV sometimes and not just to laugh when some bleach-blond skate-rat wipes out on a mega-ramp. 2001 was early enough that Parkour hadn't yet become pedestrian enough to be a joke on the US version of the OFFICE, and YAMAKASI was made with that level of innocence. The film opens with a group of young men planning a campaign, shot in a manner that suggest bank robbery. It turns out to be a freerunning stunt. Of course. Directed by Ariel Zeitoun and Julien Seri and based on a scenario by Luc Besson, the plot is lightweight and the action fast-and-furious. Just what you'd expect. The stunts are certainly a precursor to later fare like BANLIEUE 13, which was better shot and better written. Zeitoun has gone on to be a full-fledged Besson prodigy, and YAMAKASI fits the template of Besson-produced action yarns. There's some nice cinematography thanks to Phillippe Piffeteau, who also shot the Oscar-winning short LE MOZART DES PICKPOCKETS back in 2006.
Be forewarned, despite loads of manly stunts, there is a kid-heavy subplot so treacly it'll make your teeth hurt. The urban but erstwhile heros are in it for the joy of the sport, not just to antagonize the police (the goof-ball villains of the story) and abuse public property. Even elderly neighbors feel moved to sympathy for these young punks who sport street names like "Mr. Music" and "Tango." They also do good deeds: "Baseball" stops a purse snatcher by throwing a can at the thief's head, major-league pitcher style, and they all come to the rescue of the local rugrats, one of whom ends up hospitalized.
But it's a Luc Besson Parkour film, you aren't watching it for the story, are you?