Jet Li brings humanity to killer role

LOUIS B. HOBSON - Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:47 AM ET

Martial arts superstar Jet Li's new film, Unleashed, is a strange hybrid. Part of the time it is a kick-butt action flick featuring Li at his mind-boggling best.

The man's martial arts moves seem to defy gravity and most laws of physics.

Neatly packaged between these spectacular sequences is a sweet story of a man finding his humanity -- well, as sweet as a Frankenstein myth can be.

In Unleashed, Li plays Danny, a man who, quite literally, has been raised to be an attack dog.

His master and trainer, Bart (Bob Hoskins) twisted the teachings of Pavlov to turn a young boy into a weapon.

Bart is a thinly disguised Dr. Frankenstein and Danny is his creature, so we know it's only a matter of time before he turns on his creator.

The film opens with Danny on the job. Bart, an enforcer and collector for a loan shark in Glasgow, takes Danny to clients who are late on payments and turns his human pitbull loose.

As long as Danny is wearing his steel collar he is docile, but once the collar is released, he is pure kinetic menace. These scenes feature Li at his feet-and-fist-flying best.

It's when Bart meets an underground fight promoter that Li has to add bone-crushing to his moves.

The scenes in the fight club, arguably the most ugly and brutal, are reminiscent of almost every old Jean Claude Van Damme flick.

Then a car accident strands Danny on the streets of Glasgow, where he is rescued by Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner, and his stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon).

In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the creature is befriended by a blind man who sees only his potential. The same is true in Unleashed.

Sam and Victoria are in Glasgow so Victoria can study at a renowned piano conservatory.

Between them, they teach Danny how to be human.

The scenes with Sam teaching Danny to shop at the supermarket are hilarious.

The scenes in which Victoria reaches out to him are pure melodrama and, fortunately, given the age difference of the actors, shy away from an actual romance.

In these scenes, Li looks and acts like an awkward teenager, showing a glimpse of the humanity he brought to his characters in Chinese films.

Freeman plays Li's kindly saviour with wit.

It's ironic that this should be the first time we see Freeman since he won his Oscar for Million Dollar Baby.

This role is anything but Oscar material, but he's obviously having fun with his performance, so we can too.

Unleashed will be a difficult film for audiences.

Those who want unrestrained action may find the melodrama a bit too soppy and those admiring the sweetness of the subplot will likely cringe during the blood and gore scenes.

(This film is rated 14-A)


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