Jet Li plays Danny, a man who is locked in a cage wearing a collar, who is the personal assassin of evil loan shark, Bart (Bob Hoskins). After one of Bart’s victims takes revenge on him, Danny staggers into the workplace of blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman). Sam takes Danny to his home, where he meets his stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). With his new found ‘family’, Danny slowly learns to adapt to the outside world that has been hidden from him, and also to learn the fate of his deceased mother. After awhile, Bart comes back looking for Danny and all hell breaks lose! Much action and furious glares ensue.

Western audiences have taken their time to getting used to Jet Li’s films. His first American film was Lethal Weapon 4, where he played the villain, but since then he has mostly played good guys roles in films such as ‘The One’, & ‘Cradle to the Grave’. His last film was the excellent ‘Hero’, where he finally showed how good he could be in action roles without the restraint of the Hollywood machine. ‘Unleashed’ is a change of pace for Jet Li, as in this one he actually has to give a ‘performance’, and act convincingly amongst the action. He does this surprisingly well, and makes his role very sympathetic and endearing. Naturally his action scenes are at his usual high standards, but this film is more of an acting piece for him. His scenes with Morgan Freeman are well handled and believable.

The rest of the cast do their usual good roles. Bob Hoskins delights in playing a rare bad guy role and chews the scenery as much as he can. Hoskins exudes evil and makes his dangerous psycho role, a very scary one. Morgan Freeman lends his usual dignity to proceedings, and plays his usual mentor type role to perfection. Kerry Condon as the stepdaughter is very charming, and thankfully the film mostly stays away from making her part the ‘token love interest’. Her character has an important role to play and helps guide the Danny character to discovering himself.

The film isn’t mostly about the drama of course, and the action in this is quite impressive. Jet Li certainly has a great technical knowledge of fight scenes and impresses at every turn. Whilst the films of Jackie Chan feature fight scenes that are mostly played for laughs, Jet Li takes his scenes very seriously, which adds to the tension and danger. There is very little CGI work in this and most of the fight scenes are done for real. There are some holes in the storyline, but generally the acting and action mostly overcome them.

Martial Art type films have their own cult audiences, while other people dismiss them out of hand for being ’silly’. This is one of the better films made of the genre and has more substance in between people getting thrown around. Definitely one of the best American made Jet Li films, with good performances all around.

Rating out of 10: 6 and a half.

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