Slick Moves: Queer Fight Choreography in The Transporter
by Zachary Dorsey — University of Texas at Austin
December 05, 2007 – 04:01
There’s something queer about Corey Yuen’s fight choreography in this scene from The Transporter (2002). By “queer,” I primarily refer to this choreography’s counternormativity – its imaginative, unusual, and critical approaches to the action genre’s same-sex brawl – and the political readings that such slick moves make possible.
Yuen’s inventive choice to add oil to the proceedings literally destabilizes this fight, and in so doing, upends conventional masculinity. Hard-men tumble and flail, gracelessly scrambling to adapt to a changed environment where muscle, swagger, and sheer numbers are no longer enough. Only Jason Statham’s character, Frank, has the wherewithal to think his way out of a rough situation: through the cunning use of footwear, his masculinity-with-a-difference ensures stability and victory.
Though most fights in the action genre rely on the exchange of punches and kicks from an asexual distance, Yuen’s choreography, which features prolonged touch and lingering bodily contact, further unsettles orthodox masculinity. Yuen refigures the physical relationship between combatants, and frequently choreographs Frank locked in an embrace with one assailant while he fights others. This, coupled with Frank’s code-of-honor refusal to simply kill those who get in his way, suggests a sort of queer intimacy or tenderness absent from most cinematic violence.
The Transporter’s queer choreography is, of course, augmented by the homoerotic aspects of its mise en scène: Statham’s oil-slicked torso, the pulsing techno soundtrack common to gay porn, etc. I contend, however, that though sometimes they intersect, queer fight choreography is something different than choreography that merely provides gay spectatorial pleasures. Fight choreography can offer more than just spectacle (or eye-candy) – it can contribute substantively to a film’s theme.
Yuen’s innovative choreography repeatedly throws masculinity off-balance. I choose to read it as quietly subversive, especially in a PG-13 film aimed at a teenage boy audience. What kind of potential, I wonder, might queer fight choreography hold for films (like the X-Men series, for example) with more ambitious and explicit queer political agendas?