Easily the most visible and busiest action/thriller actor of the decade plus has been Jason Statham. Frequently criticized as playing typecast characters, Statham doesn’t disappoint in his newest film, Safe, scheduled for theatrical release April 27th. Safe is produced by Lawrence Bender and Dana Brunetti and is being released through Lionsgate. Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, it also features Catherine Chan, Chris Sarandon, Robert John Burke, James Hong, Reggie Lee, and Danny Hoch.
Safe is the story of an emotionally distraught and suicidal former elite agent and second rate MMA cage fighter (Statham) who encounters and rescues a twelve-year-old Chinese girl who’s been abducted by the Triads. Armed with a safe-cracking combination, they find themselves in the middle of a stand-off between Triads, the Russian Mafia and high-level corrupt New York City politicians and police.
Statham’s character, Luke Wright, bucks the usual Statham persona by being all too human…at first. He’s fallen on hard times and his wife was murdered when Luke fails to follow through on a rigged fight. “Luke is probably in the lowest position he could ever be in his life,” explains Statham. “He’s about to commit suicide. He’s ready to throw in the towel and there’s nothing worth living for. That’s how we first meet him.” However, the film takes a turn and offers Luke a chance for redemption when he rescues Mei (Chan). “Mei actually saves me,” says Statham. “I won’t explain how or we’d give too much away, but she’s being chased by the Russian mafia, the same guys who are responsible for murdering my wife.”
Writer and director Boaz Yakin relates the film is a rarity among the action genre. “This is a film about a guy who has lost everything in his life,” says Yakin, “and through this chance encounter, he finds a reason
to live again. This little girl is in need and this broken character finds a way to help her. This is a film where Jason is in his wheel house. He plays a tough guy, and with the stunts and the action he’s meticulous to a crazy degree. But this is a much more vulnerable character than he usually plays. He really went for it and I think that’s going to surprise people.”
Producer Lawrence Bender also commented on Statham’s ability to expand his usual skill set. “Jason’s very focused, very concentrated in what he’s doing,” adds Bender. “At this moment in the story, Luke is completely empty inside, just blank, a black hole. His pain is so severe that he can’t even allow himself to feel it. Jason portrays that void brilliantly. I’ve always been so impressed with how dynamic he is, what a big presence he has on screen. He has this unwavering authenticity to his characters.”
In a way, Yakin also gave himself a new start like Statham’s character as he was an action writer early in his career but had never directed such a film. He says, “I wanted to make something that had a broader appeal, so I thought, ‘Let me see if I can write one of these scripts the way I used to write when I was starting out.’ As the story developed, I started to identify with the main character quite a bit, the process of pulling himself out of a dark place, putting one foot in front of the other and finding a reason to live and connect to life again.”
Yakin also felt the relationship between Luke and Mei was the driving force behind the plot. “The idea of directing an action film was interesting, but unless there’s a strong emotional motivation for the action, it can be a lot like directing traffic,” he says. “I wanted every action scene in this film to come from an emotional need in the character.”
To get that presence they chose 12 year old Catherine Chan, who got the nod on the first day after numerous other auditions. “We auditioned many, many girls,” recalls Bender. “Catherine had the right amount of vulnerability but the right amount of fire, too. Her character moves from innocent to depressed to ‘Let’s do this!’ and that’s a lot of personality for a twelve-year-old.” Added Statham, “One of the charming aspects of working with Catherine is she’s only twelve, so she doesn’t have the baggage, all the layers of falseness that you can build as you spend years being an actor. She has such purity. She’s not self-conscious in any way so she brings something really fresh. It was a pleasure to be around her.”
Can Statham pull it off again? Some feel audiences are tiring of him, or at least the characters he portrays. This film could possibly show him in a different light and thus lead to more multi-dimensional roles. On the other hand, it’s still a Statham action film with his character kicking bad guys’ butts. It’s safe to say it’s a giant leap for him, but a small step for audiences.