UNLEASHED (Louis Leterrier). 103 minutes. Opens Friday (May 13). For venues and times, see Movies, page 102. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Most action movies end on a shot of triumph - the hero with the girl or his buddies. But Unleashed chooses a quiet flashback to a site of love and love lost, a comment on the hero's journey and the film's theme.
It's typical of the way this movie plays on our expectations. It sets us up for violence, then withholds it, or delivers it at unexpected times in unexpected ways. Even the revenge theme is subverted. Once Danny ( Jet Li ) walks away from his violent life, he keeps walking. He fights only when the threat is immediate, and never makes a clichéd vow of revenge.
This gives some moral weight to a tale that's seldom seen in the action genre. Basically, it's Beauty And The Beast or Androcles And The Lion. Raised to kill on command and treated like a dog, Danny is rescued by a blind piano tuner and redeemed by love, though not the romantic love the movie seems to promise.
It's not a message movie, yet there's a strong underlying child-abuse theme and the stance is anti-violence. Li is an incredible performer, and second-time director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) knows how to film action and largely avoids overcutting.
Yuen Woo-ping's complex fight choreography is brilliant, composed with the themes in mind. The fight scenes look like hard work, and they create terror more than thrills.