Wanna See A Dirty Picture?
Well, I got no dirty pictures for you, but what I do have is an exceptional movie for you to rent. That is, if you like a heaping helping of violence in your movies. Most of us do, but most won’t admit it. That’s why people continue to watch the Rocky movies. No matter how much cheese Sylvester Stallone heaps on us, we always cheer him on in the end, when he’s punching the snot out of whomever.
The movie I’m suggesting you rest is titled ‘Unleased’ in United States, but around the rest of the world it’s known as ‘Danny the Dog’.
It features martial artist Jet Li as you’ve never seen him before—as an actor. Sure, he kicks the shit out of just about everything that moves, but this boy can act as well. How good is he? For starters, he holds his own up against the likes of Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins, and that’s a lot.
In a nutshell, it’s the story of a young boy raised in a cage to be a human pit bull. (Yes I know I’m using dog stereotypes, and that probably more people are killed tripping over wiener dogs than are killed by pit bulls, but it’s late and I need a quick analogy, so deal.) Bob Hoskins plays a loan shark who raises the boy to kill on demand—which helps a lot when it comes time to collect overdue loans. One thing beautifully leads to another and Danny the Dog (Jet Li) comes in contact with blind Morgan Freeman. Wait, that doesn’t actually happen in the movie, like Being John Malkovich. What I mean is that Danny the Dog comes into contact with Sam the blind piano tuner, played by Morgan Freeman.
I hope you didn’t laugh when you read that, because I sure laughed when I typed it. “Well look who we have here, it’s good old Sam, the blind piano tuner.” Believe me, it works. Having a blind man see human being inside the killing machine does reek of treacle a bit, but you can blame the French. The film was written Luc Besson (the love him/hate him director of The Professional and The Fifth Element) and was directed by Louis Leterrier, a Besson protégé who also directed the underappreciated and misunderstood film, The Transporter. The French aren’t as jaded as we are, so to them a character like blind Sam the piano tuner is a sweet idea. Again, if anyone could pull off a character like this, it’s Morgan Freeman, and he does.
A secret little shining star hidden in this movie is Ms. Kerry Condon, who plays Morgan Freeman’s stepdaughter. But not really. She plays a character that is Morgan Freeman’s character’s stepdaughter. (Must stop doing that.) Condon is immediately recognizable, yet I knew I’d never seen her in anything before. Kinda like Ron Howard’s daughter who played the blind girl in The Village. You’re sure you’ve seen her before, yet you never have. Condon plays a just-turned-eighteen schoolgirl, who’s cute as a button. (Yet with enough simmering underlying sexiness to make any fathers watching—like me—kind of uncomfortable.)
Danny the Dog is pretty much a blank slate when he comes in contact with Sam and his stepdaughter and that’s when Jet Li really shows his acting chops. All his character knows about the world is what he picks up while living in a gangster’s cellar or when he’s unleashed and ordered to kill. Danny learns about the world at a natural, unrushed pace.
And of course there’s enough martial arts action to choke a Vietnamese pig. Which is a lot, I think. The fights were choreographed by the genius Woo-Ping Yuen, who called the shots in the Matrix movies and both volumes of Kill Bill. There’s a lot less wirework in this film and that’s probably because he had the likes of Jet Li to work with, as opposed to Keanu Reeves. Master choreographer + master martial artist = movie magic.
Did I mention how good Bob Hoskins is? I haven’t liked him this much since The Long Good Friday.
I hope this movie finds the audience on home video that it missed while in the theaters.