Unleashed Movie Review
The threat of "you don't pay, the collar comes off"is often all the vicious Hoskins needs to scare every penny due out oftardy debtors -- but not so often that Li doesn't get a good workout throughoutthe film. Director Louis Leterrier ("TheTransporter"), master fight choreographerYuen Wo-Ping ("KungFu Hustle," "TheMatrix," "KillBill") and the ever-limber Li unleash severalraucously raw and instinctive fight scenes when Hoskins lets his animalloose.
But "Unleashed" is ultimately a character-drivenstory, and Li rises to the occasion when a twist of fate, machine-gun fireand car-wreck carnage set him free with no skills for coping in the realworld. Scared and confused, he's taken in by a blind piano tuner (MorganFreeman) and his sweetly gawky 18-year-old stepdaughter (Kerry Condon),who are similarly out of their element as Americans living in Scotland(where, curiously, no one speaks with a Scottish accent). Through thissurrogate family, his humanity begins to emerge in a series of well-writtenscenes in which Li perfectly balances his character's wide-eyed innocenceand newfound joy with the violent impulses that lurk uncomfortably in thedark recesses of his battered psyche.
Written by Luc Besson ("The Professional," "TheFifth Element"), who has a gift for creativeaction-movie concepts but a bad habit of dumbing them down, "Unleashed"has its clumsy moments, especially when it comes to the folksy wisdom andaltruism thrust upon Freeman (who nonetheless makes his role believable).But the movie is balanced out with more interesting characters in the girl(who in this kind of movie would normally be a babe), the gangster (Hoskinsturns him into an extremely twisted father figure), and Li's hero, whosenew life (and new respect for life) is threatened when Hoskins returnsfrom near-death to hunt him down.
Leterrier makes savvy use of music as a simple metaphorfor Li's self-discovery, builds superb tension into scenes in which Listruggles against his killer instincts, and knows enough to let the powerfullyintuitive fights created by Yuen speak for themselves in long takes thatdisplay Li's skills instead of flash-editing the life out of them, as hasbecome all too common in Americanized kung fu movies.
Had Besson and Leterrier been confident enough in the genuinelypotent drama to reel in a few preposterous elements, "Unleashed"(which goes by the much better title of "Danny the Dog" overseas)might have been one of the best martial arts movies yet made in English.But while it isn't perfect, the few unfortunate nods to convention arecertainly forgivable when the rest of the picture stands uncommonly abovethe genre norm.