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Raised as a slave, Danny is used to fighting for his survival. In fact, his "master," Bart, thinks of him as a pet and goes as far as leashing him with a cola so they can make money in fight clubs. This is where Danny plays as the main contender. When Bart's crew is in a car accident, Danny escapes and meets a blind, kindhearted piano tuner who takes him in and uses music to free the fighter's long-buried heart. While Unleashed has its fair share of action, there's a large portion of the movie that would be more appropriately known as a thriller than an action flick. This is when his new found family attempts to humanize him and teach him everything from simple things to more abstract concepts. To be honest, this is the most interesting portion of the movie. The action sequences are exciting to begin with, but it becomes all too familiar and stale very quickly. A big part of this is due to the fact that we have almost unlimited amounts of thugs attacking Danny, yet he's able to take them down without having to try too hard, by his standards of course. The story plays out exactly as one would predict. The ending follows this formula as well. One of the more successful parts of the screenplay is that Danny is a sympathetic character and the filmmakers allow us to get to know him as a character instead of just throwing him into insane action sequences without allowing us to fully understand and care for the character. Those expecting good dialogue from this character will be a bit disappointed. While it isn't a complete disaster, this movie could have definitely benefited from some stronger dialogue. Other than that, the action scenes are entertaining enough, even though they start to get old a little too fast.
Performing as Danny, Jet Li steals the main character. He definitely is convincing in the character and does a good job to be believable. Not only is he impressive during his stunt scenes, but surprisingly pulls off the more emotional aspects of the flick. I'm glad that he picked up this role and became more vulnerable than viewers are used to seeing him. It's certainly a nice alteration in his career. Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon are Danny's new family. They are both excellent and very believable. They have good energy with Li and it shows for itself on screen. Bob Hoskins does a wonderful job as the evil and disrespectful Bart. While there aren't any award-winning performances here, I didn't judge it on that scale. For an action flick, this cast does a good job.
Similar to the story, the action is 'been there, done that.' The violence is quite cartoonish at times and people take beatings that no human being could withstand and still be conscious, let alone still be breathing. Yet they continue to stand up and fight. Jet Li does an incredible job with his stunts, but that shouldn't surprise anybody who has seen many of Jet Li's movies. The movie has a very dark tone to it and tries to be as stylish as it can. There are times it succeeds and other times it fails. When it comes to the audio transfer, it's an absolute win. The overwhelming bass and aggressive, yet clear audio track are marvelous. The action sequences are supported with thumping bass in both music and each punch and kick. There are times that the use of audio in Unleashed will absolutely amaze audiences with a complete surround sound system.
It's difficult to find a genuinely well-crafted martial arts film. They're out there, but they aren't very easy to come by. Unleashed isn't a masterpiece, but it manages to be entertaining. By the middle of the movie, the action sequences start to get stale, but the drama mixed in makes up for it. The performances are decent to back it all up, so it's better than quite a few of other movies in the genre that are released in America. However, if you're looking for some of the best martial arts movies, you should be checking out some foreign motion pictures. The visual department generally is a victory for those looking for style over substance. Unleashed is recommended to martial arts fans and those who want to witness some great stunt work by Jet Li. Otherwise, mainstream viewers should keep his or her distance.