I fail to see why films like Safe are made. Nasty, cynical, and of no redeeming social value whatever, its convoluted plot seems only to serve as underpinning to the constant barrage of violence it subjects us to.
Safe tells a story that could well have been an interesting one, were it not for its overriding environment of gangland murder and mayhem.
Mei, an 11-year-old girl in provincial China, displays a fantastic capacity at school for retaining complicated mathematical formulations, and seems possessed of a phenomenal photographic memory.
As the film opens, her teacher tells her that she is being moved to a new school in Beijing because of her overwhelming brilliance.
Her schoolmates bid her farewell, but she soon finds that in reality she has been trafficked to a criminal triad gang in the capital, who intend to use her talents for evil ends.
Mei (Catherine Chan) and Luke Wright (Jason Statham) in Safe PHOTO: John Baer
Meanwhile the scene shifts to New Jersey, where a cage fighter named Luke Wright is being tortured by a gang of Russian criminals, because he did not obey their orders to throw a fight, and has cost the big-time gamblers in their midst a prodigious amount of money as a result.
Mei is smuggled into America by her triad captors, where she becomes an unwilling accomplice of crooked businessmen who are fronts for the Chinese gambling syndicate.
Their story becomes intertwined with that of the Russian gangsters, as does that of Mei and Chuck, whom we soon learn is not all that he seems.
The cage fighter, it turns out, is an ex-New York City cop, played by action film staple Jason Statham (Frank Martin from the Transporter series), himself a former British Olympic diver turned actor.
Here he’s pitted against corrupt former colleagues of his on the force, in the pay of an equally corrupt city mayor.
All this is on top of the Chinese triads, along with the Russian Mafia gangsters who have just finished with him, releasing him after having murdered his wife in retribution for their losses.
To compound his desperate situation, they have threatened to murder anyone he ever comes close to. He sees their threats borne out, after he gives his shoes to a fellow down-and-outer in a hostel, only to wake up the next morning and find the man dead.
On the verge of suicide himself, and getting ready to jump in front of an oncoming subway train, Wright pulls back when he sees a young girl on the platform.
Reluctant to traumatize her with his death, he nevertheless springs into action when he sees the same crew of Russian thugs pursuing the girl. In a mercilessly fast-edited sequence, he uses his formidable martial arts skills to dispatch them.
From that point on the violence never stops, as Wright takes Mei under his wing and they dodge their various adversaries. As a hero, he’s a pretty grim piece of goods himself, and seems as oblivious as they to the number of lives he disposes of in the process.
The whole point of the exercise, we eventually learn, is access to the prodigious fortune amassed by the Chinese gangsters. Its location has been encrypted in the memory of Mei, safe from paper trails and telltale computer hard drives.
Newcomer Catherine Chan plays Mei with a determined toughness that belies her tender years, while Statham contributes little more than his trademark viciousness in this fast-moving but unpleasant vehicle from the producers of Pulp Fiction.
Safe plays at the Qwanlin Cinema Centre at 7:15 and 9:15 p.m., and is rated 14A for frequent violence.