Friday, June 24, 2005

UNLEASHED (Danny the Dog)

Jet Li is Danny the Dog
By Reymundo Salao

Although his past works, like the Chinese epic "Hero" may have proven to be his most excellent films, Jet Li's image in the US and Europe has only been attached to very dull, very tacky B-movie Hollywood action flicks. But finally, he has brought decency to his international action star image with his new film. UNLEASHED is easily Jet Li's best English language movie.

"Danny the Dog" (Jet Li) is a slave who has lived his whole life without any sort of normal human education, with the mind and personality of a young child, with only one lesson learned: how to fight. Treated like a dog by his owner/boss, Bart (Bob Hoskins) which includes having to wear a collar, Danny has been raised to be a lethal fighting machine who fights in illegal gladiator-style fight clubs, where he earns lots of money for Bart as the undisputed champion. After a car accident that lands Bart in a coma, however, Danny escapes and is taken in by a kind family consisting of blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman) and his teenage stepdaughter, Victoria (Kerry Condon). They teach Danny how to be a real person, to be able to act civilly in society. They also allow Danny to explore his love of the piano, where a specific tune haunts him, bringing up repressed memories from his long-ago past. Just when Danny thinks he has escaped from his former life, he is pulled back in, but he is no longer the trained dog Bart thinks he is.

Jet Li's acting is brilliantly honest and dramatically convincing. Funny as it may seem, the words that came to my head was "It's 'I Am Sam' with Killer Martial Arts". Morgan Freeman is, as always, greatly inspiring whenever he plays heartwarming characters that seem to be a perfect combination of a guide-of-wisdom father figure and the emotionally nurturing mother figure. He plays the character that has served as Danny's pathway back to humanity. Freeman's character (which reminds me of Ray Charles) may be blind, but he is the character that manages to tap into what human side Danny still has. His character Sam was at first not blind at all. After hearing from a piano school for the blind (with a very high reputation, and where the scholars developed their hearing), Freeman had the idea of making his character blind because like this it is easier for Sam to "see" the child in Jet Li's character, and not the brutal killer. Like many of his other emotionally inspiring roles in previous films, he does so in this film, with a standing ovation excellence.

Exact opposite of Freeman's role, is the role of Bob Hoskins. Playing Uncle Bart, he is the master, the abusive guardian of Danny. Not so much of a father, his degrading treatment of Danny since his childhood is what makes Danny, Danny the Dog. Hoskins is amusing playing the somewhat cruel, rarely caring master. Often breaking into witty slum-scum funny lines, Hoskins plays the villain role somehow familiar to the Tarantino and Guy Ritchie films.

This film was originally titled "DANNY the DOG" and was released around a year ago in parts of Europe and France under the original title. Louis Leterrier directed, but was under the production of Luc Besson, who also wrote the screenplay for this film. It's no wonder the film has such a great dramatic depth that balances nicely with the drama, it is because Luc Besson has had a great reputation in the A-quality action-drama movies, which include the thought-provoking explosive hitman action-drama "Leon: The Professional", and "La Femme Nikita" (which was later remade into Bridgette Fonda's "The Assassin" and was made into a TV series, which also became an inspiration for the TV series "Alias")

The music for the entire film was directed and scored by the popular group, Massive Attack, which delivers a magnificent soundtrack that gives great colorful life into the film. The fight direction was under the supervision of Yuen Wo Ping (the master himself) whose long-standing reputation goes back from the 70's with works like "Snake in the Eagles Shadow" & "Drunken Master" up to the more recent groundbreaking action of the Matrix movies. Clearly, from the A-list actors, up to the A-list crew, UNLEASHED is indeed a clear champion action film.

UNLEASHED is now showing at Robinson's Movieworld (sked: 1:15 PM, 3:15, 5:15, 7:15 PM)

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