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I've never been a big fan of the martial arts genre in general and when asked I've never been able to give anyone a definite answer as to why. I've tried to enjoy such films whenever they are recommended, but I always get the feeling that I am watching the same old movie most of the time. Sure, there have been exceptions over the years; movies like Enter the Dragon and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are some of my favourites, but I don't go out of my way to catch the latest flick, and considering the company of the reviewers on this site I am almost ashamed to admit that as of this writing I have not been able to sit through House of Flying Daggers in its entirety, even though I have attempted to do so several times. I guess that on the whole the genre doesn't hold my interest, and that’s about as clear an answer as I can offer.

Unleashed: Unrated
So it goes without saying that I have not seen too many of Jet Li's films, and of those, with the exception of Hero, I've only viewed his Westernernized films such as Kiss of the Dragon, The One, and most of Cradle 2 the Grave, finding every one of them to be fairly forgettable action flicks. I'd heard good things though about Unleashed through various sources, and with the intriguing supporting cast of Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins on board I decided to give it a shot.

Unleashed tells the story of Danny (Let Li), who since he can remember has been locked away in a cage and, through years of abuse, neglect, and training, been made into a feral enforcer for a small time gangster type figure, Uncle Bart (Bob Hoskins). One day, violent fortune smiles upon Danny as he is given the opportunity to escape his master, ending up in the care of a blind piano tuner, Sam (Morgan Freeman), and his stepdaughter (Kerry Condon). With their help, Danny slowly begins to emerge from his shell and experience the world outside of his cage for the first time, all while becoming part of their family. Just when the world begins to make sense to Danny, however, his past and Uncle Bart catch up to him, placing himself and his new found loved ones in harm’s way.

I wasn’t really expecting much out of Unleashed, simply because I initially thought that the premise of the film was a bit on the absurd side. Somewhat surprisingly, however, what I found is a movie that is well acted, has a lot of heart, and a story that works on an almost operatic level. I found myself really caring for Danny and his plight during the film, which made the hard hitting action scenes unravel with a greater urgency than they might have otherwise. New director Louis Leterrier manages to find the right balance between the drama and action in the picture so that one never overshadows the other, and in turn makes each aspect all the better for it.

Unleashed: Unrated
Out of the Western Jet Li films that I have seen, this has got to be the best of the bunch; Unleashed really showcases that he is not only a fine martial artist, but a gifted actor as well. The film is further aided by an outstanding supporting cast, and given the fact that it isn’t every day you see either Morgan Freeman or Bob Hoskins in an action film of this type, its plain to see that they must have seen something more in the film as well. Hoskins in particular steals every scene that he is in with his cruel, brutal, and intense portrayal of Uncle Bart, serving as the perfect, and what I am sure to be very calculated, counter point to Freeman’s father figure Sam who tries to nurture Danny and assimilate him back into society.

Now all talk of acting and drama aside, let’s not forget that Unleashed is first and foremost a balls to the walls, skull smashing martial arts movie and on that promise it certainly delivers as the fight scenes, choreographed by Master Yuen Woo-ping, are as imaginative as they are deadly. True to his upbringing, Danny’s fighting style is that of a dog, focusing attention and ferocity on one opponent at a time, and only when that foe is defeated moving on to the next. There were several different sequences that gave me a slight chuckle of disbelief, with a fight that takes place in a bathroom stall taking top prize, and the film definitely gains points for originality in my book.

Unleashed may not be the best film I have seen all year, but it is definitely a fun movie that knows what it wants to achieve and at a little over one hundred minutes doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you’re like me and not a big fan of this particular genre, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed when the next time you’re out looking for a fun movie to watch you put down that latest Hollywood blockbuster and give Unleashed a try.

Unleashed: Unrated

Video


Universal Home Video has presented Unleashed on DVD with an anamorphically enhanced transfer at the film’s theatrically exhibited aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Technically the transfer is very good and suffers from few problems, with the worst of these being some grain in the darker scenes and a bit of overall softness to the picture from time to time, but nothing that will detract from the enjoyment of the film. Being a new film, there are, as expected, no problems associated with the video transfer's source such as artefacts or scratches and compression artefacts are virtually non-existent. Overall, this is a near reference quality transfer of the film to DVD-Video.

Audio


Unleashed is presented on DVD with the choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 audio tracks in English and optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Both audio tracks are top notch and deliver each rib cracking punch and kick terrifically and will give your entire surround sound system a real workout, though the DTS track offers up a more bone shattering and robust sound. Both tracks have their share of good surround effects while the sound is clear from all channels and offer as perfect clarity as you are going to get on DVD. The only way the audio tracks here could have been better would have been by supplying a more advanced 6.1 track, but what is offered here will put you in the middle of the action nonetheless.

Unleashed: Unrated

Extras


Unleashed has been furnished with a few supplements, such as an interview with its director, two featurettes on the making of the film, and a couple of music videos. Also included on this unrated edition of the film is an optional branching feature that, like a few other Universal releases such as Ray and Meet The Fockers, allows you to view an extended version of the film.

First up is an interview with director Louis Leterrier in which he discusses how he came to direct the film through his association with producer Luc Besson and his perspective on making the movie. At a running time of about five minutes, this featurette isn’t a substitute for a commentary track on the film and only allows Leterreir to skim the surface on the subject at hand.

Next are two featurettes, ‘Serve No Master’ and ‘The Collar Comes Off’ with running times of around nine and fifteen minutes each. The first featurette focuses on fight choreographer Master Yuen Woo-ping and features interviews with Jet Li and Bob Hoskins intercut with behind the scenes footage of one of the film’s major fight sequences. The second featurette contains interviews with director Leterrier and actors Jet Li, Bob Hoskins, and Morgan Freeman who all discuss their take on the film and their characters and you also get to see a lot of the work that went into the stunts on the film as well. While these featurettes are nice in their own way, you get the feeling that there is much more to the making of the film than what the running time of each allows. The extras found under the special features menu are rounded out with two rather short music videos from Massive Attack, who also scored the film, and RZA, who supplies the end titles track for the film.

The DVD also contains the option of watching an extended version of the film through a branching option. Much like some previous Universal releases, selecting this prior to playing the movie will cause an icon to appear on screen whenever added footage is about to be inserted back into the feature. Unfortunately, just as in those previous releases, the footage does not match up with the rest of the film in either the video or audio department and really takes you out of the film when they do appear. From what I could tell, the extended scenes mainly consist of additions to a few of the fight sequences in the film, but this option hampers the overall enjoyment of watching the movie and is better left turned off.

Unleashed: Unrated

Overall


I’ve never been a big fan of Jet Li’s films or the martial arts genre in general and Unleashed isn’t going to make me a convert, but there is a very good and emotional film underneath all of the on screen flying fists and drop kicks. Sure, the action is excellent and won’t disappoint any aficionado of this type of filmmaking, but there is more to this film than a few well placed body blows, and to me that raises it above many of these types of films. Universal’s treatment of the film on DVD is a solid effort overall with very good video and excellent audio, but hampered a bit by the amount and quality of the special features added to the package. Overall, Unleashed would make good addition to many a DVD library, and fans of Jet Li and the genre should pick it up without giving it a second thought.


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