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Danny the Dog
"I like ice cream and melons."

Jet Li prepares for battle in Danny the Dog AKA: Unleashed.
AKA: Unleashed


Year: 2005
Director: Louis Leterrier
Producer: Luc Besson, Jet Li, Steven Chasman
Writer: Luc Besson
Action: Yuen Woo-Ping
Cast: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon, Vincent Regan, Dylan Brown, Tamer Hassan, Michael Jenn, Carole Ann Wilson, Michael Ian Lambert
The Skinny: The fight sequences in Danny the Dog entertain when they occur, and Jet Li and co-star Morgan Freeman do their best with the somewhat saccharine material. However, your mileage with Danny the Dog may depend on just how much you actually like Luc Besson and his usual bag of tricks.
by Kozo:

Jet Li stretches his acting chops for Danny the Dog, an internationally-produced flick written and produced by the overly-beloved Luc Besson. Helmed by Louis Letterier ("artistic director" on The Transporter), Danny the Dog is a different sort of Jet Li movie. Instead of the stoic hardass or all-around nice guy that he normally essays, Li instead plays a psychologically wounded human being who discovers the joy of being an average human being. He also gets to kick ass like nobody's business, and has a virtual army of gun-toting evil bastards on his tail. Hey, this is still a Jet Li movie.

Li plays Danny, a wounded human being who lives like a dog. Locked in a basement-like cage, Danny exists to serve his master since childhood: Bart (an effective, though overacting Bob Hoskins), a Cockney loan shark who collects debts in a rather roundabout way. Instead of showing up with guns, Bart drags along Danny, who usually stands around in a dazed, dog-eared state. However, when Bart removes Danny's metal collar, Danny starts working the room like Tony Jaa on speed. Those delinquent on their debts get their asses handed to them pronto, and Danny gets the collar reapplied, whereupon Bart and Danny repeat the cycle ad nauseum.

But not for long. Clearly, Danny is not living a happy existence, and after a fateful turn of events, he escapes Bart's questionable ownership. Danny is taken in by Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner who lives with Victoria (Kerry Condon), his spritely stepdaughter. The two live in rundown Glasgow, Scotland, where Victoria attends music school. Sam and Victoria introduce Danny to the wonders of life, i.e. shopping at the supermarket, playing the piano, eating ice cream, and even the possibility of love. But again, this is a Jet Li movie. Sooner or later Bart shows up holding Danny's collar, and asks him to beat up more people. Will Danny give in to Bart's crappy ownership? Or will he do the right thing and beat up Bart instead?

If you think Danny's going to give in to Bart's bullying, then you clearly have not seen any Luc Besson movies. Danny the Dog is the story of a dehumanized individual who discovers their own humanity through the minute, and yet utterly precious joys of life. Danny may be a shut off wreck of a human being, but thanks to stuff like music, ice cream, and ripe melons, Danny learns to smile from his heart. He discovers that a kiss is sweet, ice cream is cold and sweet, and ripe melons are sweet. In other words, life is sweet. It's common cinematic formula, and Jet Li and Morgan Freeman sell it like overeager pitchmen. That it works as well as it does is a credit to both actors - particularly Morgan Freeman, who could probably star in a live-action Smurfs movie and get an Oscar nomination. Louis Letterier's unashamed direction heaps it on without pause; once Kerry Condon's Victoria shows up squealing with manufactured cuteness, you'd have to be completely dead inside not to see the obvious emotions at work. It's as meaningful as your standard Hallmark card, but everyone working on the film seems to believe in it. You should believe in it too, or you're an ungrateful sourpuss of a human being.

And hey, it has fighting. Jet Li cuts loose in several entertaining, if unnecessarily brutal action sequences from the venerable Yuen Woo-Ping. The scenes substitute some bad-tasting brutality for acrobatic grace, but people who like their martial arts with lots of meaty impact should be pleased with Danny the Dog. Like Kiss of the Dragon, Li's earlier collaboration with Luc Besson, people actually get hurt when kicked, punched, or thrown through windows. If the sight of Jet Li learning about ice cream, kisses, ripe melons, or Mozart are not what you pay for, then at least you have an out. It's called fast-forward or chapter skip; they're your friends, use them wisely.

Ultimately, Danny the Dog has enough going for it to satisfy the cult of Luc Besson AND Jet Li fans who like to skip to the fight scenes. The problem: those who don't like to skip to the fight scenes AND don't like Luc Besson may find the filler to be manufactured at best, or unbearably saccharine at worst. The characters of Sam and Victoria are ridiculously angelic, and seem to be little more than enablers to the film's recycled hokey premise. Sam and Victoria accept Danny with no-questions-asked open arms, a credibility-straining act considering he shows up with a metal collar, no ID, no past, and a puddle of blood at his feet. Victoria seems to fall instantly in love with Danny, if not romantically then at an intense platonic level. It seems to work because the actors try hard to make it happen, but even then it's bit hard to swallow. These aren't characters, they're types from screenwriting handbook.

Still, this syrupy storytelling is standard and somewhat accepted commercial filmmaking formula, so many might forgive the narrative shortcuts. But Luc Besson has used this formula in many of his previous films, including La Femme Nikita, The Professional (AKA Leon), and even The Fifth Element (the Milla Jovovich character). In those films, a character had their humanity reawakened, frequently in conjunction with the minor creature comforts of daily human existence and that all-powerful, always-desired thing called love. Again, these are common and even effective movie themes - it's just that Luc Besson has used them so often that it's almost become annoying. That may not faze many viewers, as Luc Besson happens to be an internationally-beloved filmmaker who many proclaim as some sort of cinema god. If you're one of those people, then Danny the Dog may suit you. But if you're not, then even the fast-forward button may not be enough. (Kozo 2005)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
English, Cantonese, and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS-ES 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Music Videos, Trailers, Various extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen