DVD Information (unrated US release)
Danny the Dog
In Danny the Dog (or as most of you readers in the US will probably know it by, Unleashed), Jet plays the titular role, an orphan who was taken in by his "uncle" Bart (played by a scenery-chewing Bob Hoskins) and raised to be a human form of an attack dog. Bart, who is a loan shark, uses Danny to assist in his collections. When people refuse to pay, Bart takes off Danny's collar and he goes to town, which is displayed fabulously in the film's opening scene, an absolutely brutal and hard-hitting brawl that puts the finale of many movies to shame. With the protection of Danny, Bart is a cocky bastard and leaves himself open to an assassination attempt. Danny survives the carnage and is then befriended by a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his daughter (Kerry Condon), who teach Danny to become a normal person. As the new "family" is set to move New York City, Bart re-appears and forces Danny to compete in underground death matches. As he is drawn back to his feral self, Danny must try and stay in touch with his "human" side while saving the people that he loves from Bart's wrath.
Danny the Dog is most definitely Jet Li's best film made in the west to date. That might not seem like a whole lot when compared to lukewarm efforts like The One or the ill-advised attempts of fusing him with the hip-hop world like Cradle 2 the Grave, but I would actually go as far as to stack it up against a lot of his work from Hong Kong. I'm not saying that this is the next Once Upon a Time in China, but Danny the Dog should prove wrong those nay-sayers that claim Jet is past his prime. Simply put, this is Jet Li's best work in years (even counting his role in the excellent Hero) and marks a re-birth of sorts for one of the biggest pillars in the martial arts movie world.
Like I said before, Danny the Dog starts out with an absolute cracker of a fight scene. It's the kind of stuff which will make you say "oh shit!" rather than the "that looks cool" reaction you'll get from most of the overly-CGIed martial arts stuff coming out from both Hong Kong and the US lately. From the start, you know that Jet Li and action co-ordinator Yuen Woo-Ping have something to prove to the fanboys, and they do so in spades in the fight sequences. I was so glad to see a brawl that didn't have guys flying around throwing fireballs or shooting dual guns in slow-motion. Danny the Dog's fight scenes are all about snapping necks and breaking faces, and I loved that. Action films, as a whole, have become too clean, too PG-13. Real action movie fans want stuff that will make them cringe and then cheer, and Danny the Dog marks at least a small return to that kind of style in mainstream films.
Don't let me lead you astray, though. If you're expecting wall-to-wall action, then you might be disappointed with Danny the Dog. The second act of the film -- where Danny becomes more human -- is pure drama all the way. But I actually liked this part. Unlike his other western movies where Jet seemed to be forced into a role he didn't enjoy playing, in Danny the Dog he seems for the first time to be actually comfortable acting in English. Yeah, he's not going to win any Oscars, but he creates someone likeable enough that you can believe that a total stranger with an eighteen-year-old daughter would take him into their home. Director Louis Leterrier knows when to play things for laughs (such as when Danny tries ice cream for the first time) and when to take things up a notch, like the scenes where Danny learns the truth about his past. Jet Li -- at least to most westerners -- has never been known as a good actor, but Danny the Dog should go a long way to dispelling the notion that good on-screen martial artists cannot act.
Even if you've missed your ritalin dose for the day and can't put up with the slower-moving middle portion of the film, Danny the Dog puts out a flurry of action and violence during its' third act that will satisfy any fan of slamming fight scenes. Of particular note is a sequence where Jet uses a sledgehammer to devastating effect against a group of opponents that actually generated cheers from the audience and even this jaded movie reviewer. Even with an ending that comes off as a bit too long and overly sappy, Danny the Dog marked one of the best experiences I've had in the theatres this year, and if you're a fan of good old-fashioned ass-whoopin', I suspect you'll feel the same.