Boaz Yakin, director of Safe, had this compliment for his star - Jason Statham - in a Q & A after the screening I attended, "Jason's a modern day Charles Bronson...but much lighter on his feet". That's the best description I've heard to date and summarizes what action fans like about Statham. He's a tough guy that can shoot and fight, pulling off martial arts moves as well as any Asian star today. Yakin plays to his star's strengths and delivers a better than expected, ruthless crime drama with a few unexpected twists.
The story revolves around a young Chinese girl - Mei (Catherine Chan). Stolen from her sick mother in China, Mei is brought to the US to be the numbers keeper for a vicious Chinese gangster (James Hong). She's a genius, able to memorize and decode large numerical strings. Her value is not lost on the Russian mob, a bunch of corrupt NYPD cops, and dirty politicians in the New York Mayor's office. Mei has a prized secret that everyone wants, and is willing to kill to get her. Statham stars as disgraced cage fighter Luke Wright. As the story evolves, we learn much more about Luke and why he is involved with these disparate factions. He ends up protecting Mei and bringing some hard justice to the men who have used her.
There's a lot going on in this film. The story seems vanilla at first, but then deviates into a fairly complex plot. Yakin did a great job casting Catherine Chan as Mei. Her character witnesses horrific crimes and is constantly being manipulated, but she is not weak or ignorant. Mei keenly understands her situation and is in survival mode. Her actions during the climactic scenes are entirely believable. She has learned from watching these criminals and is the perfect ally for Wright's physical prowess.
The action is bloody. Yakin goes for realism here. A veteran director and screenwriter, he paints an ugly world of crime and corruption. Statham's character of Luke Wright is not polished like The Transporter series. He takes a few licks before the can of whoop ass is shaken to explode, but then that's what you want in your action hero. Wright can't be invincible from the start. It's a little cheesy, but the revelation of his character does work in the context of this story.
I found Safe to be entertaining and unexpected. It is an action film foremost, so you are going to get Statham goes wild. This couples back into my initial quote from Yakin regarding his star. He's a known commodity, but he's good and what you want to see. As someone who likes these types of films, I was happy with Safe. I don't think it's a date movie and we've seen the hero saves little girl before. But it works under Yakin's capable guidance and is definitely worth seeing.