Unleashed aka Danny the Dog
I bought the DVD some time back, watched it then and wanted to write about it but never found the time to do so, finally I think, today is the right time to discuss about this film in greater detail. Maybe because while I was backing up my archives, I read through some of my old entries. My writings seemed to have detoriated over time, probably due to my massive mood swings and me being over indulging in my own problems. It's time for me to find back the old Joan and just be herself all over again.
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There are two titles to this film Unleashed and Danny the Dog, hence I think over somewhere, some ingenious person gave it the moniker Unleashed aka Danny the Dog, I thought this sounded more apt. The Unleashed would be that Jet Li's character's development, the theme of the film, of unleashing him. Danny the Dog is just his name in the film and his status, not very apt since the theme of the film was about him trying not to be a dog anymore.
This is a Jet Li film if no one knows this. I say Jet Li because it boasts the signature fighting scenes but I'd like to emphasise this as a film rather than his film. This can be said as one of Jet Li's more dramatic, more cinematic film.
I came to know about this film while surfing through the biblical website for film junkies aka IMDb. I think I was browsing through some forum regarding Jet Li when I came across someone somewhere stating that one of his favourite Jet Li's films would be Unleashed. This got me interested because I've never heard of this film before. So I checked it up. IMDb said that it was a 2005 film, I was pretty shocked because I never heard of this film before. Naturally I thought that it was a not yet released film (that was about at the end of 2005), but after asking around a couple of film junkies (or should I be more specific and call ourselves art house junkies?) that I realised that this was not as new a film I thought it was. It's run ended. I started to watch out for the DVD.
I didn't really give myself a reason to buy the DVD until that day when I went to watch Brokeback Mountain that I decided to buy a couple of DVDs to watch and kill time. I had watched that film the day after, so I don't know why it took me this long to do a write up on this.
The plot of this film is simple, yet thought provoking. The story tells of Danny (Jet Li's character naturally), a man who was as a child brought up like a dog to be a fighting machine. His master uses a collar to control to, once the collar is removed, Danny is supposed to fight to kill all of the opponents of his master. He lives in a cage, eats with his hands, has little life other than a teddy bear and a picture book. He does what's he's told. Life can be said as simple. Although his master treats him as a dog, sometimes when he's in a good mood he can treat Danny rather well too, sort of like how you treat a guard dog, it has its uses, sometimes when it behaves well you'd be pleased, sometimes when it doesn't get things done well, you'll get upset with it.
But one day, Danny got separated from his master and got to know this blind piano tuner and his step daughter. In them, Danny realises that he is not a dog, nor is he anyone's fighting machine or servant. With them, he searches for his self worth. But of course, like in any movie, good times do not last, and Danny has to come to terms with the very basis of who he is and how did he come to be like this.
I like this genre of films, themes that revolve around exploring of human nature, primate basic human nature. A bit like my almost all time favourite film, Blue Lagoon.
Really, can anyone be brought up as a dog, any human to be a dog? Or should I ask the question, what differentiates a human from a dog? And if there's a difference, how can a human be brought up to be as loyal as a dog, and as fearless? The film doesn't explain this clearly, but from young, that was what was propogated into Danny. I think what separates human from primate is their ability to think for themselves, but much of what we think are what was taught to us, in a way I still think what happened to Danny is plausible. But as we see in Danny, after he leaves his master, he was able to think for himself and start to discover his self-worth, that he is not a dog after all but a human.
Humans are really no different from primates when pushed to extremities. If I can argue that then this film would be an anti-thesis of the above statement. Danny grew up under streme conditions, and the relieving of himself of these extreme conditions was what that made him to think of himself as a human once again.
Jet Li as Danny is actually quite good. He was able to portray the primal Danny and also the innocent in worldly affairs Danny, at times he was like a dog, yet other times he was like a little boy. I think his youthful boyish face did helped him get into character quite a bit. The fighting scenes were not bad, not too over the top, yet quite characteristically Jet Li.
Morgan Freeman acted as the blind piano tuner. I don't really like that character because he seems very one sided, like a totally good guy like that, but his acting, as always was good, very fatherly. The step daughter was cute, some little hints here and there, but generally, they seem like too nice a group of people.
But I like the character of the master, Burt. I think he had this wholesome image. At times he might seem cold hearted and treats Danny and his other men like dogs, but some other times there were slight gestures that Burt isn't really ill treating Danny, and even says things like "I love you" and "You're so good", really like treating Danny as a dog. Then I thought, is it right to treat a human like a dog? I know this is a moral judgement and there is no right wrong answer to it. Maybe it's the means of which Burt acquired Danny that I think it's wrong of him to treat Danny as a dog. No spoilers here though... hehehe~
I cannot imagine myself being raised like a dog, but for an idea to have a person almost doglike to wait on you loyally, hmm... Humans with their overcomplicated brains often think too much to give anyone unquestioned loyalty. In a way, can we think of government propaganda as a form of raising our children to become dogs of the nation? With the instilling of mindsets and ideologies into our minds... hai... Quite a depressing thought.
A downside of this film that that there is not enough exploration of Danny's childlike innocence and his struggle between his innocence and his dog-trained loyalty.
The film shows that Danny was trained since the age of 4, but I thought the child in the film looked a lot older than 4. In IMDb forums, the posters gave his age as 10. Theories are that even though he has physically aged, his mental age still remains at 10 years. Maybe 10 years, and with his subconscious mind, and with that major spoiler I'm not revealling, Danny did wanted more than anything to leave Burt. But for me, I like to be in my comfort zone. I think that if I were Danny, I'd probably not want to leave him. It would be good if the film explored this area a bit more thoroughly.
Some other criticism of this film is that it is set in Dublin. erm... There is technically nothing wrong with a film being set in Dublin, but then none of the characters actually speak with an Irish accent, so this is a bit of a problem. In fact, if I hadn't read in the plot synopsis that it was set in Dublin, I wouldn't have known that it was set in Dublin. Almost everyone spoke with an American accent, except Jet Li that is, and that the piano tuner and his step daughter had mentioned that their hometown is New York, which makes things a bit weirder, travelling two thousand miles over to Dublin for what reason?
Still, this a refreshing film, different from the normal Hollywood fare, partly because this is an international project film, part of it it French, and the French always make very interesting and watchable films.
7.5 I'd say.