Where To Start With… Luc Besson
Luc Besson is a proper jack of all trades in cinema. His latest effort, 3 Days To Kill, which he wrote for director McG, comes to DVD next week (October 20th). It stars Kevin Costner as a dying CIA agent desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. When he's suddently offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment, his life is well and truly turned upside down.
Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld and Connie Nielsen also star in this thriller, which is another of Besson's tribute to the 1970s action thrillers he loves so much.
To celebrate 3 Days To Kill's release, we thought we'd look back at Besson's career, so here is Where To Start With... Luc Besson.
If you take nothing else away from this, what you need to remember above all about Luc Besson is he makes interesting but challenging observations on life, morals and personal development. He’s basically like that uncle who gives you wise quotes (about everything) which you later have to take away and puzzle out.
Moving on, if you’re not too familiar with his name (shame on you), you should definitely know Liam Neeson, Scarlett Johansson and Jet Li. Besson has written and produced dozens of films, many of which emerged out of film company EuropaCorp, including all of those actors. The Frenchman has directed, written and produced more than 50 films, spanning across 26 years.
Besson and his friend Pierre-Ange Le Pogam founded EuropaCorp in 2000. Pre-this launch, the French film director started his own production company in 1980 with Les Films Du Loup and later Les Films du Dauphin. Launching careers for the likes of Natalie Portman and Milla Jovovich, he also wrote The Transporter, which turned Jason Statham into a badass action star. And also reinvented Neeson with his script for Taken in 2008.
Wait, we haven’t even started yet. A few background snippets; originally from Paris, Besson successfully known as the maker of mass-market films, decided in 2006 to pack it all in. After having already written and directed Arthur and the Invisibles, The Big Blue, Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, surely it wasn’t that time yet? For almost a decade the film-maker had always said he would only direct 10 films in his life and at the time he had reached his quota. However he did admit that “I would rather stop too soon than too late”. Lucky for us, seemingly it was too soon.
Spending many years of his life following his scuba-diving instructor parents around the world, his entry into film started for the 55-year-old after an unfortunate car accident at the age of 17. This sparked his passion for story writing and the idea of getting into films. Some of the films we regard as the best cinematography of our era came from Besson as a mere teenager. During his teens he read French comic books and wrote the background to what would be further developed as The Fifth Element.
Besson takes pride in the fact that he never went to film school and was never obsessed with cinema, more hands-on, he learnt on the job. Although he doesn’t necessarily fit in with the Avant-garde film movement of Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, his film making machine EuropaCorp produced Oscar-winners, and it looks like retirement may be a long way away yet.
His latest box-office hit is female-driven, Lucy, which stars Johansson. It surpassed all the box office intake expectations and the actioner scored $44 million (over £27 million) at the box office in 3,173 screens. Lucy even beat Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Hercules, only landing $29 million (over £18 million).
The central concept of the film is that a drug permits humans to access more the 10% of their brain and enables Johansson to control everything around her, including metal, radio signals, humans and so forth. Her power grows as she accesses more of her brain.These elements seem enough to stage endless action sequences, but Besson claims Lucy has a larger philosophical message about the need for humanity to share the wealth of intellect or money. There goes those uncle motives again.
Besson is now helping with the making of Taken 3 (2015), The Transporter Legacy (2015) and Transporter 5 & 6 yet to be confirmed.
Here’s a list of five of what we think are his biggest projects thus far…
Action-thriller Taken grossed almost a quarter of a billion dollars and stars Liam Neeson, who wasn't particularly known for his action roles at the time. Neeson plays retired CIA agent Brian Mills, reprising his skills, in order to save his estranged daughter who is kidnapped while on a trip to Paris with her friend.
Taken is one of the films which made Besson a global success. One of EuropaCorp’s films, it seemed to appear out of nowhere in the early noughties and broke through Hollywood’s barrier of allowing certain levels of violence and realistic martial arts. Other than just in a PG-rated/fantasy.
Besson explains that Taken and Taken 2 are essentially the same film in two parts, the first act someone is taken and the second act is the revenge. The third film from the franchise is another story that has nothing to do with Neeson’s character or his family. Besson states Taken 3 is the best of the three for him.
The Fifth Element
This is particularly special for Besson because it was one of his first ideas before he even knew he would be a film maker. The Fifth Element is a witty, wild, sci-fi film which had the honour of opening the fiftieth Cannes Film Festival before debuting as America’s No. 1 film.
The $80 million film stars Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and Milla Jovovich (who also stars in Besson’s 1999 film, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc). This 23rd century universe was conceived by the French director as a teenager in the mid-seventies. After making La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional and The Big Blue, Besson was then established enough to make this film exactly the way he’d envisioned it as a child.
He boasts he wrote the script for the film at 16 years old with no TV and no V.C.R. It was even created a year or two before Star Wars, which means he, after writing it, left it in a drawer for twenty years. Pretty impressive.
Jet Li’s Kiss The Dragon
Starring Jet Li, who plays a Chinese intelligence officer Liu Jian, this action-thriller was co-written by Besson. Jian, on an assignment in Paris, finds himself amidst an international conspiracy. When Jian gets close to uncovering the truth through his investigation his life is threatened. He’s then forced to employ his martial arts skills (which when watching a Jet Li film is basically what we’re waiting to see).
Besson features Tcheky Karyo in the film as a trusted French peer, who in fact is the double-crossing evil mastermind Jian is looking for.
Written and produced by Jet Li (story) and Besson (screenplay) the memorable parts are all the action. The plot, not so much.
Stunt-packed, action-comedy, Taxi is EuropaCorp’s biggest success franchise. This helped Besson’s productions as it was popular with young immigrant communities, who were ignored by mainstream French cinema at the time.
Written by Besson this action comedy was directed by Gerard Pires with Taxi 2, Taxi 3 and Taxi 4 released. There was one remake in 2004 of the original film and NBC attained rights and produced a US TV show, Taxi Brooklyn which debuted this year.
It’s one of the most successful French franchises ever, grossing at a reported total of $200 million worldwide.
Since the late 20th century Besson suddenly started creating a bunch of action films including writing this screenplay about a man whose job is to deliver packages without questions. Launching Jason Statham as an action-star his character seems to come across some complications when he breaks his rules as a delivery man, “the transporter”.
Statham’s character, Frank Martin, is a hired driver, highly skilled, always on time with his deliveries and known as the number one in the business. The Transporter grossed a total of over $43 million worldwide.
Now as part of EuropaCorp’s Transporter franchise, the latested instalment, The Transporter Legacy, is set for a 2015 release and is produced by Besson and Fundamental Film’s Mark Gao.