"Unleashed delivers where it counts, which is the bone-breaking action which was sorely missing from Cradle 2 The Grave."
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Luc Besson, Robert Kamen
Producer: Luc Besson, Steve Chasman, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam
Cast: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon, Andy Beckwith, Scott Adkins, Silvio Simac, Christian Gazio
Running Time: 133 min.
Plot: This is the story of Danny (Li), 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 (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 meets a kind elderly blind piano tuner (Freeman) on the run because he knows secrets some bad guys don't want known, who uses music to teach Danny some things about the world and about being human...
AMERICAN NINJA MAN'S REVIEW: I have to first get this off my chest...mainly Unleashed is a great bad movie. So ridiculous in its earnest phoniness is it that I can't believe critics and HK fanboys bought into this as being the best American Jet Li movie to date, I've alway considered myself a non-conformist (seriously look at the crap I watch) and let me tell you that I had a blast with this blissfully awful Jet Li action flick. However, is it good? That depends. Are watching movies produced by Vince McMahon good? Are watching movies with Sasha Mitchell good? How about Bruce Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Jeff Speakman? If you answer that they make good movies, this is only the right answer when compared to the unbelievable badness of Unleashed.
AMERICAN NINJA MAN'S REVIEW: 3.5/10
OZARK SAVAGE'S REVIEW: Danny (Jet Li) is a dog, well a man raised like one. Caged and trained to be an unstoppable martial-arts machine when unleashed. He escapes his life when an attempt on his owner/boss (Hoskins) leaves his shot but alive. He ends up in the home of blind piano tuner (Freeman) and his step-daughter (Kerry Condon). Trying to start a new life with a family his past catches up with him all too soon.
Luc Besson wrote the script of this movie for Jet Li and as in previous movies from the French auteur the character of Danny fills a familiar posisiton. Much like The Professional's 'Leon' (Jean Reno) and to some extent La Femme Nikita's Nikita (Anne Parillaud), Danny is childlike in nature, an innocent corrupted to do evil things just because that is all he knows. Then he finds himself in a place where he can escape all the past and start anew or so he thinks. At it's bare bones it is a film about family and finding your place in that family.
Definately more dramatic than the trailers and advertisements would have you think and this isn't bad, unlike when Van Damme started trying to act with Nowhere to Run, Jet Li has some acting muscle to flex. His character lacks any facial emmotion but his eyes tell a different story and this is where Li excells he carries himself so well you often forget he is an action star. In fact he even outshines the always great Freeman and Hoskins.
Then comes the action. And boy is it action. Jet Li IS an animal and the martial arts choreography courtesey of Yuen Wo Ping is sublime. The bathroom fight between Danny and 'The Stranger' (Michael Ian Lambert) is a particular high point. Fast, viscious and insane.
The Good: Jet Li's best Hollywood work to date.
OZARK SAVAGE'S RATING: Action Unleashed. 9/10
NINGEN'S REVIEW: After failing to make any money off the dubbed and edited Fist of Legend, and after getting kicked out of his own company by Disney, Harvey Weinstein kidnaps Jet Li in the middle of the night, and forces him to beat up investors who refuse to take a chance on Playing for Keeps 2. All kidding aside, Unleashed is really about a British loan shark played by Bob Hoskins who uses a non-collared Jet Li to beat up his "clients" when they don't pay up. In his spare time, Hoskins' character Bart keeps Li (known as Danny in the film) in check by making him wear a collar and by verbally abusing him. Eventually, Bart tangles with people way out of his league, and while they're busy trying to bump him off, Danny escapes with the help of a blind piano tuner named Sam(wonderfully played by Morgan Freeman) whom he met earlier. Sam lives with a perky and out-going daughter named Victoria who's currently enrolled at school abroad. Together, the two "tame" Danny by tending to his wounds and helping him get back on his feet. Having never encountered this kind of friendship before, Danny decides to cut ties with Bart so he can join Sam and Victoria on their trip back to the States.
I saw a sneak preview of this flick through the Asian Film Foundation. Before the screening, the guy who runs http://www.angryasianman.com/ introduced the flick and admitted his apprehension at the premise, but that he enjoyed the final product because Jet gets to (I probably got this wrong...) "show his acting chops and kick some white ass". I agree with the latter more than the former. Jet's said for a long time that this was a project he picked, because he had a problem with fans admiring him for roles in which he solely fights. Thus he signed up for Unleashed, because he wanted to show that fighting has its consequences. And boy does this film have consequences. This isn't your typical wuxia/Drunken Master-like choreography from Yuen Woo Ping. No, Unleashed is pure no-holds-barred street fighting, with limbs and necks being broken frequently throughout the film. People in the audience were gasping in awe at the brutality of the fights. And I wasn't immune to being impressed either, as I would swear whenever the action scenes went overboard, which was often. I was initially afraid that Yuen Woo Ping's moves would be minimized by the cameraman for Besson who ruined Kiss of the Dragon, but Ping was smart enough to use dark and cramped locations which forced the cameraman to move back to catch it all. I thought Ping reached his potential with Reloaded, but Unleashed proved he's still got a few moves up his sleeve.
As for Jet, well, his English has improved, but in terms of acting, Freeman steals the show. Jet is still the loveable naive but charismatic average Joe we've seen in other flicks, but I was hoping he'd show his more emotional side in Unleashed. I also thought his character's blooming romance with Victoria was a little flat and forced, but it was still sweet and innocent enough to be passable. Freeman, on the other hand, possibly because he literally plays the father figure, gets all the good lines, and is so exceptional as a blind man, that, if only he were younger, he would've been my pick for Ray over Jamie Foxx in a second. Still, I think both Jet and Freeman could've been given roles with more depth. You barely know anything about their family histories which might've added to their importance in the film. If it weren't for their performances, I probably wouldn't care about their characters.
Anyway, Unleashed delivers where it counts, which is the bone-breaking action which was sorely missing from Cradle 2 The Grave. So thank you for renewing my interest in Jet, Yuen Woo Ping. Quentin may have wasted your talents in Kill Bill, but you're the real star in Unleashed.
NINGEN'S RATING: 8.5/10 (Add a 0.5 or a 1 if you don't mind the rushed plot.)