Stu’s Review (Spoiler-Light, New to Martial Arts Movies)

This is the third film in this series and I feel like now is a good time to talk about what I thought was a MA movie and how that has been blown away. Dragon was somewhat the kind of film I expected, but Kung Fu Hustle and now this? They have made me realise that I had a very stereotypical view of what a MA was, but now I realise that MA films can literally be anything – a cartoonish comedy, a thrilling action film or in this case a genuinely good film with a lot of real heart to it – but with kickass fight scenes thrown in for good measure.

Unleashed is about Danny (Jet Li), a man who has been trained since he was a child to be the muscle for Bart (Bob Hoskins), a loan shark who keeps Danny on a literal leash and whom he treats like a dog. When back at base he is kept in a cage, but whenever Bart goes out on debt collections, if they do not pay he unleashes Danny who is an unstoppable fighting machine. One of these collections leads them to an antique piano shop where Danny is meant to stay put and keep an eye out for any trouble. However, a kindly piano repair man Sam (Morgan Freeman) strikes up a conversation with the shy and quiet Danny, even asking him to help him fix the piano by playing a key until it’s fixed.

Danny gets so engrossed with playing the piano he fails to realise his “master” is in trouble and while Bart is angry, an opportunity strikes – a man wants Danny to participate in an underground fighting club where they fight to the death. Danny beats his first opponent in just a couple of seconds and they are invited back but with the caveat that they make it more interesting next time. Bart offers to buy Danny something nice with some of the winnings but balks at Danny’s request for a piano. A truck then hits the car they are driving in and Danny escapes.

Danny eventually finds his way back to the piano warehouse and is taken in by Sam and his daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) who immediately takes a liking to him. I’m not going to go too much farther into the plot but I will say my favourite part of Unleashed is just how wholesome the dynamic between Danny, Sam and Victoria is. It’s very nice as they treat Danny so much nicer than Bart and his gang ever did, treating him like an actual human and teaching him the skills to be his own man. When Sam asks Danny to move with him and Victoria to New York when she’s done with her studies because they think of him like family, I remember just having a big smile on my face. That smile was tinged with the fear that it was inevitable that it wouldn’t last and when the inevitable happens my heart sank.

The power of this movie is that it tells a good story, has entertaining action and has so much heart that the movie immediately captured mine. I realise that this isn’t a movie that would win awards and the bad guys are not nuanced characters – Bart is evil, manipulative and deserves every bad thing happening to him. However, I loved this movie. I loved and believed in the relationships between Danny, Sam and Victoria. I really liked how there is a hint of romance in the relationship between Danny and Victoria but it is very cute and innocent – there is nothing sexual about it, it is two humans connecting on a totally different level and it is rare you see this in cinema. It means they are a super believable pair in my opinion.

I love the fact this film was set and filmed in Glasgow (Scotland represent), the characters were either super likable or super hateable, the action was fun, I enjoyed every minute. The star rating might look like I’m too generous to some people but the star rating is MY opinions and I really liked this movie. Give it a go if you want a film that offers great fight scenes and also wholesome content. I love wholesome content.

Stu’s Score –

Blake’s Review (Spoiler-Heavy)

I knew from the start that I was going to pick Unleashed. It was the first film on the list and for a very good reason. If you’ve read Stu’s review then you know the basics of the story, so I’ll talk more about the end half of the film. Danny’s escape from Uncle Bart and his deplorable goons comes as such a nice change of pace. When he returns to a place where he felt safe, the antiques shop where he knows Sam will be, I breathed a sigh of relief. The film then lets you see the flip side of the story, from the dank cage and constant mistreatment we’ve become accustomed to we’re brought into a world of care, love and affection where Danny’s understandable fear and confusion are treated with compassion. The family dynamic between the three is honestly some of the best content I’ve ever watched in a movie. Watching Danny grow and come out of his shell as he’s taught how to function as a free man for the first time in his life could warm anybody’s heart.

And that, dear reader, is where the pervading sense of dread begins. You know that the film won’t just be watching Danny be happy with his new family for an hour or so then credits roll. You know it has to all come crashing down and when it does it hits you like a freight train. Danny runs excitedly out of the local shop and bumps into Lefty, Bart’s more vocal henchman, and it is horrible. Danny immediately freezes up and next thing you know he’s back in the cage with his collar on and there’s a sad moment where it shows Sam and Victoria eating dinner sadly pondering why Danny never came home. Bart once again seeks to weaponize the martial arts ability of Danny for profit by entering the fight club again but this time Danny exclaims that he doesn’t want to hurt people anymore. This development angers The Hoskins and he throws Danny into the lion’s den to fight or die. There’s a brief moment when Danny fights back and nearly kills one of his opponents but stops himself short. This of course makes Bart furious enough to kill the downed opponent himself.

Throughout the movie Danny is frequently inquisitive about his mother, who he can’t remember, and after the fight club he breaks out of his cage to snoop through Bart’s private, lecherous photos and discovers one of his departed mother. When he confronts Bart about it and questions why he lied about knowing her Bart responds that Danny’s mother was simply a prostitute who Bart hired. Danny makes another car crash related escape and find his way back to Sam and Victoria but their plan to escape is cut short by Bart and a group of goons. The chase and fights through the buildings here are fantastic to watch, from the wild firing of Lefty’s guns to a character only called The Stranger (a martial artist on an even level to Danny) there’s a lot going on and it is a great way for Jet Li to show off his incredible physicality. The fight scene between Danny and The Stranger ends up in a toilet cubicle at one point and watching the amount of movement and combat in such a small space is beautiful. Jet Li is a top-tier martial artist and this film lets him flex how good he is while also giving him a chance to be more than just a fighter.

The big climax sees Bart trying one final time to get Danny to wear his collar again but Danny stops him and ends up beating Bart so badly you genuinely think he might kill him. Sam and Victoria tearfully try and hold Danny back from killing Bart and eventually Sam is the one to shut Bart up with a flowerpot to the head. The film ends with Danny and Sam in New York watching Victoria perform at her piano recital and I genuinely feel emotional every time I realise Danny is gonna be ok.

The combat in this film isn’t as constant as other martial arts films but the depth of the story and the actors are all perfectly acted. None of the bad guys are given any kinda of likability or redemption and the good guys are all believably nice and watching Danny experience a happy home gives me a kind of joy I can’t find in any other movie. Jet Li has been a staple of martial marts for a long time and it’s easy to see why. Standing at around 5 foot 5, he’s often the smaller fighter in the situation but his acrobatic ability and his martial arts skills are so formidable that every punch or kick feels like it would down me. This film boasts a lot of brutal fighting, people are hurt badly and occasionally killed. Bones break quite frequently and the abusive nature of Bart and his henchmen is done in such a way that you don’t want to watch it, you feel bad for Danny.

The writing, cinematography and music in the movie are really well done too. Characters are all given plenty of screen time and as I said before the bad guys stay bad, none of them are redeemable in the slightest. Sam and Victoria are some of the nicest people you’ll ever see in a movie. Watching them teach Danny the basics of life, like how to pick ripe fruit or how to eat ice cream is just…. oh god I love it. It’s so pure and good and lovable.

My final statement is this: Unleashed is an incredible piece of storytelling and if you only watch one of the 10 films we plan to cover, please make it this one.

BLAKE’S SCORE:

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