In the never-vacant category of “TV shows based on hit films, either in development or on the air,” there are currently 35 entries. One of the newest is Transporter: The Series, which plays on TNT in the United States. It’s derived from Luc Besson’s Transporter movies, which featured Jason Statham as Frank Martin, a freelance courier whose driving style is as fast and powerful as his fighting style.
Unfortunately, the key to the films’ success — Statham’s ability to deliver the goods in frenetic, Hong Kong-style fight scenes that were choreographed by Cory Yuen Kwei — is absent from the series. So just how do the resulting TV battles compare to the film fights?
There are three reasons the fights in Transporter: The Series fall short. First is the star. Chris Vance as Martin resembles Roger Moore’s debonair Simon Templar in The Saint TV show (1962-1969) more than he does Statham’s portrayal of Martin. Suffice it to say that Vance’s martial arts skills could use some work, as well.
Second is the choreographer. Mohamed Elachi’s fight scenes are like a seesaw. In other words, the action goes up and down. It’s bad most weeks, but sometimes it gets better — although it’s never really great.
Third is the fact that the fights in the series are not as important to the plot as Besson demanded for his movies.
None of this means that Transporter: The Series sucks; it just means the fights need work.
The first episode, which aired in late 2014, showed Vance using weak boxing stances, performing one-step-sparring moves with big windups, and doing silly things like stepping onto a car hood and then jumping into the air (not very high) before executing a simple punch.
The second episode tried to conceal Vance’s skill level by using shifty camera movements — aka the “earthquake cam.” Interestingly, this technique was used often in samurai movies from the 1970s.
In the ensuing weeks, Vance’s signature movements became apparent: the head butt, the noggin smash into a wall or plate glass, the step-jump that leads into an attack and a front kick that’s reminiscent of Kwai Chang Caine.
On the positive side: An episode that aired in January 2015 had Vance fighting the Chinese Triads, and the star actually did a ton of decent martial arts moves. Making it even better, the choreography involved more props, incorporated the environment, and used wider angles so viewers could see — and appreciate — the combat. Such is the nature of seesaw choreography.
Sometimes, the first season of any TV series brings with it a learning curve that challenges the choreographer, the stuntmen and the actors. They’re tasked with developing a fight rhythm so that by the time the second season is under way, everyone is in sync and the choreographer knows how to work with non-martial-arts-practicing actors. That seems to be the case with Transporter: The Series.
Because the choreography and camerawork in Transporter: The Series can change from episode to episode, it’s hard to predict whether a particular installment will feature good fights. With any luck, the cast and crew will find the right balance that will keep everyone happy.
(Photos Courtesy of TNT, Cauvin-Chognard/CCSP)