Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Truly Great Films
Edition #3

Jet Li
Morgan Freeman

A mostly forgotten martial 
arts film...with heart

Twenty years ago, I picked up a paintbrush for the first time...and produced this:

It looks awful now, but back then this painting got quite a few backhanded compliments. The chief among them was, "It makes me want to wear jean cut-offs and pop open a beer."

Well, I'll take that.

That's art, you see. It doesn't have to as refined or as perfect as the critics would lead you to believe. What matters the most is did evoke a response or emotion in you

Believe it or not, that's all that matters....nothing more, nothing less. Movies, books, art....when it all boils down, the really important thing is how did it make you feel? 

On to the movie....

Luc Besson wrote the script for 2005's Unleashed. As you know, Besson is Europe's answer to James Cameron, and I mean that in a good way. For this movie he took a very different direction, with superb results.

This story, brought to life by of Jet Li and Morgan Freeman, is one of tragedy and hope. I know that sounds dramatic, sorry. Just sayin'.

There is really no other way to describe Unleashed

But, as you will see, that although this film isn't perfect, it evokes a strong emotional response.

Bear with me here.

Jet Li plays a young man named Danny with incredible fighting abilities, but he has been raised - and is treated - as nothing more than a junkyard dog by a deliciously-evil Bob Hoskins.

You handsome man, you

Danny wears a collar, eats dog food and lives in a cage. 

When the collar he wears is on, he's perfectly docile. Hoskins is a loan shark named Bart. When Bart is owed money...well, the collar comes off. 

And whoever owes money to Bart just waded balls deep into a river of fuck.

It's actually a little scary at the beginning of the movie, when you realize just how vicious Danny really is. 

Then Danny is befriended by a blind piano tuner played by Morgan Freeman.

And things start to change.

We start to see that Danny is smart, talented and, well...I hate use this word because I'm a guy - but adorable. 

Through Freeman and his adopted daughter, played by the sweet Kerry Condon, Danny learns to eat like a human, discovers ice cream for the first time and that boat rides aren't for the timid.

Danny also discovers the importance of family. 

I would like to stop for a second and point out that Jet Li gives the performance of his career, but the director, Louis Leterrier, may have taken things to far with the whole 'dog' theme.

That's enough for me, thanks

Yes, it was a good thread to follow...for a while. But Danny hiding under the bed at the sight of a woman and cowering like a whipped puppy was a little over the top. Especially after he'd been befriended by Freeman.

However, the fight scenes - even by 2012 standards - are very good. 

The choreography was done by Yuen Wo Ping, of Kill Bill and Matrix fame. The reason I am mentioning this is because the fights are very Matrixy.

Am I going to give you the ending? Umm...no. This film is well worth you discovering that on your own.

So why don't you have this film on your DVD shelf? Well, for one thing the movie has two names - Unleashed and Danny the Dog. That suggests, perhaps, that the marketing of this flick was muddled and sub-par.

The biggest reason, I think, is that it was distributed by studios in multiple countries...notably Great Britain. When the English get their hands on a movie, they tend to muck it up. They don't look at marketing the way we do here in America, and are generally cheap on advertising.

Actually, I also like pulling England's chain, because it's fun. More than likely, nobody could figure how to market Unleashed, it certainly doesn't fit into any easy categories.

Should I have called Unleashed a great film? 

That's debatable. 

But it is very entertaining, well-paced and has lots of fantastic fight scenes. Plus, you get Freeman, Hoskins and Li at their very best.

What more could you want?

What is your favorite 
martial arts film?

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