Taut actioner, featuring Jason Statham and an oversupply of villains: The Russian mob, Triad gangsters, corrupt cops, evil politicians, and shady government operatives. All this against a backdrop of the mean streets of New York City. What’s not to like?
Mei (Catherine Chan) is a gifted 12-year-old Chinese girl, who has been taken out of her school, to perform an important task for the Triads. With her photographic memory and immense mathematical skills, she is recruited to help gangster Han Jiao (James Hong) pull off some sort of scheme in the Big Apple. Mainly, she has to memorize a very long number, which is to be matched with another very long number to get the sizable payoff.
Apparently, Han feels that relying on a human is much safer than using encrypted computer data, or something.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Luke Wright (Jason Statham), down on his luck—not to mention having run afoul of the Russian mob, who brutally killed his wife, and threaten everyone around him. He is seriously contemplating suicide, by jumping onto subway tracks, when he spies Mei, herself running from the Russian mob, who temporarily abducted her from the Triads in NYC. Luke decides to help her. Indeed, it is his reason for living.
Adding complexity to the proceedings are a group of corrupt cops, led by Captain Wolf (Robert John Burke), who is playing the Russians against the Chinese, and demanding his pound of flesh. It rapidly boils down to Mei and Luke against the world, as the baddies get knocked off, leading up to the final confrontation—in which corruption is revealed at the highest levels.
***SPOILERS AND OTHER COMMENTS***
It is sadly quite believable that Mei can be plucked out from her classroom in China, to be used for nefarious purposes. But if Chinese officials are corrupt, they could learn a thing or two from the city fathers of NYC —or so this movie would suggest.
Another point that rings true is that the tragic attacks of 9/11 are being used to enrich a small number of individuals. Here, the panicked atmosphere in the wake of the attacks justifies a federally-inspired secret hit squad, which obtains the key to a huge fortune. The big numbers camouflage a safe combination (hence the double-meaning of the pic’s title).
Although it has nothing to do with this film, I couldn’t help thinking of Laurence Olivier’s famous line from Marathon Man (1976), which he repeats and repeats: “Is it safe?” On the other hand, the dark 1970s notion of not being able to trust anyone portrayed in that film, as well as the setting being New York City, indicate a few similarities between the two movies.
It is revealed toward the end that Luke and the mayor’s aide (lover, actually) were both on the secret hit squad. Interestingly, there is no plot reason for the mayor and his aide to be gay, other than the now quite limited shock value. True, they want to get the money and live happily ever after, but who doesn’t?
Inexplicably, Luke and Mei keep almost none of the fortune for themselves. Considering that Mei has locked in her brain the full extent of Han’s US operations—deposited in various secure locations—they would have probably have been “safe” in taking a chunk of the loot.