China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 91 mins.
Director: Song Xiao 宋啸.
Enjoyably loopy, caper-ish action-comedy set on the streets of Shanghai.
Marseilles, southern France, the present day. A French cat burglar, Gary (David Belle), breaks into the city’s museum and steals a rare ancient statuette of a cat, worth €30 million. He’s pursued over the city’s roofs by Meixi (Song Ji-hyo), the museum’s French Singaporean head of security, but has nothing on him when he’s arrested in a marketplace. In Shanghai, 48 hours later, the champion courier of Super Express – former professional racer Ma Li (Chen He) – is promised a RMB40,000 bonus by his boss (Tai Zhiyuan) if he can deliver a package in 45 minutes to their prized client, the very louche Wang Sanbiao (Xiao Yang). Needing the money to buy a wedding ring for his fiancee Nana (Li Yuan), Ma Li grudgingly takes on the job. He finds Wang Sanbiao is being held captive by Meixi, who’s waiting for the arrival of the package containing the statuette. (Just before he was arrested in the Marseilles market place, Gary had hidden the real statuette among some tourist replicas being sold at a stall, and Wang Sanbiao, who was on holiday there, had happened to buy all of them and had them shipped home.) When Gary and his Chinese American sidekick (Li Chun) arrive, fighting breaks out and, with Ma Li’s help, Meixi escapes with the statuette on his motorbike. Ma Li calls her and arranges a meeting, saying he wants his bike and phone back and that he gave her a fake cat, not the real one. She tells him the whole backstory and offers him €5,000 as a reward. Ma Li says he’s left the real statuette with Nana for safety. Meanwhile, Gary and his sidekick are on his trail. And Wang Sanbiao, realising he’s unwittingly stumbled on a potential fortune, offers Super Express RMB5 million for retrieving his package.
A Shanghai motorbike courier gets drawn into a chase after an ancient statuette in the enjoyably loopy Super Express 超级快递, which has a peachy main role for Mainland comedian Chen He 陈赫, a decent showing by South Korean actress Song Ji-hyo 송지효 | 宋智孝, and lively packaging by China’s Song Xiao 宋啸 in his directing debut. Though not stated in the credits, it’s basically a remake of the 2010 French action-comedy Coursier, aka Paris Express, made by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, with a plot that adapts easily to the crowded streets of Shanghai. It’s the best of several genre items from Fundamental Films – which now owns a sizeable stake in EuropaCorp – that have appeared this year (time-traveller The Warriors Gate 勇士之门; slasher The Precipice Game 魔轮).
After a pacey first hour of comic action and multiple twists and bluffs, the film never quite summons enough energy for a fitting finale, though a Big Twist at the 70-minute point at least refreshes the plot. Song previously co-wrote Everybody’s Fine 一切都好 (2016), the Chinese remake of Italian heartwarmer Stanno tutti bene (1990), in which Chen played the younger photographer son. Though Song has no official script credit on Super Express, it’s notable that dialogue plays an equal role to action – to the film’s benefit.
Since the late 1990s France, and especially EuropaCorp, has carved a niche for itself with both chase movies (the Taxi and Transporter series) and parkour films (District 13, 2004). Super Express throws in both, with parkour founder David Belle as a French art thief after a relic that’s ended up in Shanghai, Song Ji-hyo as the museum’s security head who wants it back, and Chen as the manic deliveryman caught in the middle. After an opening in Marseilles, with some nifty rooftop parkour as the relic is stolen from the city’s museum, the action switches to Shanghai, where it pretty much stays on the streets.
The city’s more crowded thoroughfares and lower-lying buildings make good settings for both motorbike and parkour chases, and one back-alley sequence, with people and bikes flying, is so funny that the film-makers basically re-stage it later on. Performances are fruity, and casting is to match: Xiao Yang 肖央 as a very gay art connoisseur, Tai Zhiyuan 邰智源 as the courier company’s boss, and Li Yuan 李媛 as the hapless hero’s ballsy fiancee all keep the comedy stoked. For good measure, there’s even Chinese American Li Chun 李淳 [Mason Lee], son of Taiwan director Li An 李安 [Ang Lee], in a smallish role as Belle’s sidekick.
But it’s the straightfaced playing of Chen, 31, as the dim-but-smart biker that sets and manages the tone: he was especially good as the nerdy scriptwriter in Love on the Cloud 微爱之渐入佳境 (2014) and as the gung-ho cowboy cop in Detective Chinatown 唐人街探案 (2015), and he’s good again here, whether being browbeaten by Li’s fiancee or showing off his biker skills in the traffic. In her second Chinese outing after online rom-com Shenzhen Love Story 70 80 90之深圳恋歌 (2016), Song, 35, has relaxed chemistry with Chen as a “French Singaporean” security chief who always gets her man, and fits in easily despite being revoiced into Chinese.
French d.p. Alain Duplantier (Point Blank/A bout portant, 2010) brings a natural street feel, rather than a tourist-promo look, to the film, and manages to make Shanghai seem small; parkour action staged by Benoît Lavelatte is briefish but intense. Other action, by South Korea’s Choi Dong-hun 최동훈 | 崔东宪 (whodunit Lost in White 冰河追凶, 2016) is okay. The name of Hervé Renoh, writer-director of Coursier, isn’t anywhere in the credits of Super Express, but the screenplay is co-credited to “Sixi Xiaowanzi” 四喜小丸子, which translates as “Four-Delight Meatballs”. Co-writer is Wang Ying 王郢, who worked on The Precipice Game. China’s first parkour movie was back in 2010 – City Monkey 玩酷青春, directed by Kong Lingchen 孔令晨.
Presented by Fundamental Films (CN).
Script: Sixi Xiaowanzi, Wang Ying. Photography: Alain Duplantier. Editing: Tang Hua, Song Xiao. Music: Song Yang. Production design: Pascal Leguellec. Sound: Huang Zheng, Steve Miller. Action: Choi Dong-hun. Parkour action: Benoît Lavelatte. Visual effects: Evan Ricks.
Cast: Chen He (Ma Li), Song Ji-hyo (Meixi/Maggie), David Belle (Gary), Xiao Yang (Wang Sanbiao), Li Yuan (Nana, Ma Li’s fiancee), Li Chun [Mason Lee] (Gary’s sidekick), Tai Zhiyuan (Qian, Ma Li’s boss), He Saifei (Nana’s mother), Kan Qingzi (Dandan, Qian’s assistant).
Release: China, 2 Dec 2016.