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Had a chance to see UNLEASHED the other day. SXSW arranged for me to present the film during the upcoming festival, and so I asked Rogue Pictures if I could see the film early to prepare my remarks ahead of time. They agreed.

You see, before I “present” a film, generally I like to see it first to make sure it is something I like to present to a crowd. Ultimately – it doesn’t matter to me if the audience loves the film, so much as me. If I like something, I have the hope that others will like it, but it is never a requirement.

Now – as soon as they agreed, and set up a screening at the ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE VILLAGE, I called up all my friends (ie, not the folks that forsake Austin for New Zealand) and me sweetie and set out for DANNY THE DOG now UNLEASHED. I’ve been excited about this ever since it was announced that Louis Leterrier had signed aboard as director. Sure, I love Luc Besson and Jet Li, but both of them have proven to be problematic from time to time… but Louis Leterrier – with his one film track record of THE TRANSPORTER… well, he’s got the promise of an untarnished past.

Just about everyone that followed my wheeling ass into the screening room. The time was set up for a noon start and wouldn’t you know it… the print arrived late to the theater so the crack Drafthouse team was working at ramming speed to get the print threaded and shown. In the meanwhile, we all entered into a friendly discussion of the possibility of the film sucking versus ruling. The key problem being… if they try to explain how they turned Jet into a dog, it might get ridiculous like oh thinking of taking a blood sample from a rock to test its midichlorians content.

When the film finally got stared we were all anxious as hell. Just like a badass to be fashionably late to a party, to pique everyone’s anticipation a bit.

This film is fucking fantastic.

Not only is it far cooler than THE TRANSPORTER, but… It is the best thing Luc Besson’s name has been associated with since LEON (THE PROFESSIONAL). In fact, it is easily hands down the best English Language Jet Li movie… and is the best non-period film he’s been in. In addition, this is the best performance in Jet Li’s career.

What THE PROFESSIONAL was to the Italian Hitman Genre, UNLEASHED is to the English Language Contemporary Martial Arts film. Using nearly the exact same formula writing that Besson applied to THE PROFESSIONAL, he has once again returned to.

UNLEASHED is equal parts Mary Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN (the book, not the movies) and THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY mixed with THE PROFESSIONAL. At it’s heart the movie is a story about an abused child turned into a child/monster by a criminal madman. However, like in FRANKENSTEIN – the creation gets free and longs for knowledge… He finds a musical blind man, who shows Danny the first kindness he’s ever found.

I’m not going to take you through the film. Instead, I just want to communicate the vibe of this thing.

The Violence- This comes in sections. First the Action is choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping. This isn’t elegant smooth action. Rather, it seems that our friend Tony Jaa from Thailand has hit with a fascinating result. Gone from Woo-Ping’s choreography is the lyrical ballet of it all – instead now we have incredibly intense realistic violence. Jet strikes with fury, anger and lethal effects. He will bite, slam heads repeatedly into the floor till bloody… he will beat the shit out of anyone in his way and it will not for a moment be pretty. The wonderful thing about this film is… the first instances of violence elicit a feeling of “BADASS!” from ya, but the latter violence carries a sadness… as if here’s a lost soul that will not escape the horror of his past.

The Emotion- With Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon inviting Danny into their care, we get a very nice sense of a nutty family. In much the same way that we saw Mathilda and Leon in THE PROFESSIONAL, except this time it’s the killer on the doorstep of innocence. The situation is reversed. And like that film – there is nearly an hour of just building this relationship – and Morgan Freeman, Kerry Condon and Jet Li are all so damn charismatic together… I never for a second missed the mayhem. In fact, I was building an emotional bond with these characters.

Bob Hoskins – I know I started with Violence and Emotions – but BOB HOSKINS is a force of nature in this flick. He’s a sleazy piece of shit manipulative British bastard in this film. From his whoring to his lying to just off-hand remarks he makes… he’s an over the top madman in this thing. Now – he doesn’t quite top Oldman’s “EEEEVVVVVERRRRYYOOONNNNEEEE!” but he’s not a pill-popping drug freak. His attempt to care for Jet’s Danny is possibly the most despicable aspect of his loathsome character. But he pulls it off with gritty panache that endears him.

Overall – the action is top notch, the characters and emotion of the piece deliver incredibly well and if you see this with the sort of girl that isn’t turned off to violent movies, but likes for it to be about more – the film will score high. Now gals, if you’re taking a namby pamby guy to this… his ass will rupture from the kicks this’ll give him… so remember, take a real man. This movie drips testosterone and estrogen in equal parts, and the result is really something cool as hell.

Way to go Jet, Luc and Louis! Good show! Now, Louis… Hurry up with that TRANSPORTER 2, I can hardly wait!


Can't believe I forgot to mention MASSIVE ATTACK's music for this film. It is a perfect fit for the movie. And since this film's primary genre is BADASS COOL AS FUCK ASSKICKING... that means their music is also BADASS COOL AS FUCK ASSKICKING. It is never distracting and always enhances the film, the action and the emotion. Perfect marriage of music and film.

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