At face value, District 13 is much like The Transporter (which District 13’s director Pierre Morel also worked on as a cinematographer). Both are very flashy and are full of action, but neither has much substance. District 13’s plot is limited to make way for some spectacular stunt-work (comparisons to Ong-Bak are well justified). Right now, District 13 looks slightly ahead of its time given the recent boom in violent “impoverished tower-block” movies (Comedown, Tower Block, The Raid, Dredd and so forth). What sets District 13 apart is that its action is based around parkour. Unlike the rather stilted parkour dance-movie Beat the World which uses parkour as a means of iterating the body’s propensity to move, District 13 utilises parkour to illuminate spatial dynamics. Architecture guides us through spaces, limiting movement. Parkour seeks to repudiate conventional ways of engaging with and imagining space. The smartest element of District 13 is how the parkour ethos contributes to the plot’s overt discussion of the eponymous ghetto: a walled community that offers its citizens limited opportunities. This connection is not laboured in the film. None of the dialogue refers to parkour specifically, and the protagonists do not train to attune their bodies to their environment. It is assumed that humans quite naturally resist implicit forms of coercion. Underneath the film’s masculinist posturing is a savvy and timely commentary on economic disparity and physical protest against the conditions of oppression, which adds depth to the film. Even smarter is that this dimension is easy to ignore if the viewer just wants bone-crunching thrills, which District 13 offers with heady abandon.
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