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MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for strong violent content, language and some sexuality/nudity.

Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez

Moral Rating: Extremely Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults
Genre: Action Adventure
Length: 1 hr. 43 min.
Year of Release: 2005
USA Release: May 13, 2005
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Featuring Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon, Andy Beckwith
Director Louis Leterrier
Producer Luc Besson, Steve Chasman, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam

“Serve no master.”

I just don’t understand some parents. I have read enough comments on this site from parents and heard from enough people I know who are horrified with the content in films nowadays and how inappropriate it is for children to view such material. But many times, these comments come from parents who take their younger children (13 and under) to go see R-rated films, and then cry bloody murder cause they were offended that their kid saw that stuff.

I remember reading something from a mom who took her younger kids to see the “Passion of the Christ” and was appalled because it was so violent. Ratings are in place for a reason, and while the ratings boards don’t always get it right (like many PG-13 movies that would have been R ten years ago), most of the time when a movie is rated R it is NOT for children. That is what disturbed me most while viewing Jet Li’s latest R-rated action film “Unleashed.” I knew there would probably be objectionable content: the obligatory violence and blood and overall mass carnage that comes with any film of this genre, and since Bob Hoskins is playing an angry violent gangster, I knew I could count on some profanity.

What I wasn’t expecting were so many kids in the theater. I am not talking about 13 and 14 year-olds who snuck in from another movie, but little kids that could not have been older than 8. When I got into the theater, I counted 11 different children who all had to be under the age of ten sitting happily with their parents like they were about to watch “The Lion King” or something. I walked out of the room twice to make sure I hadn’t accidentally wandered into another film.

Having said all that, for adults at least, “Unleashed” is a rather preposterously plotted, but nonetheless intriguing film starring Jet Li. Li plays Danny, the collar-wearing martial artist who is the weapon of choice of gangster Bart, played by Bob Hoskins.

Bart has raised Danny since childhood, after Danny supposedly showed up at Bart’s door, an orphan who wandered the streets with no money or food. Bart has controlled Danny since then by using a collar that is only removed by Bart. Bart has trained Danny to be a lethal killing machine, and uses him whenever debts owed to Bart don’t get paid. When debts don’t get paid, Bart takes the collar off, and Danny beats senseless those who don’t pay.

Once the collar is put back on, Danny returns to normal until the next time Bart needs him to enforce something.

Danny is by no means a bad person, on the contrary, when the collar is on, he is very soft-spoken, almost child-like in his simplicity and has an interesting obsession with pianos. Danny escapes from Bart after they are in a car accident where Danny thinks Bart has been killed. He runs off to find Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner he had previously met during one of Bart’s debt collections.

Sam is a kind, generous man, and takes Danny in to live with him and his chatty step-daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). Victoria immediately takes a liking to him, in a sweet sort of way, and begins to teach Danny simple things about everyday life to help him adjust.

Danny begins a quiet life with them, but unbeknownst to him, Bart is still alive and looking for Danny, his most valuable hit man, and he will stop at nothing to get him back.

The content of “Unleashed” will, and probably should, keep many away from this film. Needless to say, it is rather violent and bloody, with the first few minutes containing some of the film’s more brutal fight scenes. There are also some out of place scenes featuring Danny fighting in a cage match where the last one alive at the end of the fight wins.

There is also plenty of profanity, with numerous uses of the f-word and of the Lord’s name in vain. Sexual dialogue is present, as is some brief nudity in two very brief, strong sex scenes.

This is not a film parents will want their children seeing, no matter how old their children are. This is an adult action film, and parents should be very hesitant about letting teens see it as well.

“Unleashed” is a very odd film, one that feels like two movies—an occasionally hokey drama and an over-the-top action film—meshed into one. The movie is book-ended with violent, edgy scenes, but the middle has a sweetness not usually associated with this genre.

Jet Li is great as Danny, and I was surprised that he was able to make us sympathetic with his character, even in scenes that would have been downright cheesy in other films.

Morgan Freeman is a joy to watch, as always, and delivers the film’s best line near the end after beating someone over the head with a flower pot. And Bob Hoskins is downright vicious in his role as Bart, and milks his character for all he is worth.

Had “Unleashed” simply been a hokey drama or a bare-knuckle action film, it probably wouldn’t have worked. But that odd combination, along with some decent performances, make “Unleashed” an interesting experience, but one for ADULTS only.

Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/nudity: Heavy

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This film is rated R for a GOOD reason. It is very violent, there is some sexuality, and there’s a lot of language. If you have a weak stomach I would recommend not seeing this movie. The cinematography is not incredibly graphic, but the sound effects do all the talking for you.

If fighting and killing were the entire movie, I would say don’t waste your time, but what made this movie special is the fact that Jet Li plays a boy who has been trained to kill people all his life. He knows nothing about love and compassion and family until Morgan Freeman comes along. Danny (Li) is intrigued by his new friend and eventually finds his way back to him when a car accident almost kills his present master. Danny begins to learn about solid, core family values and is nearly overwhelmed by the love poured out to him from the father/daughter couple.

Throughout the entire film, however, Danny’s uncle (the villain) convinces Danny every time to come back to him. The theme is kind of a “which master will you serve?” genre and there is very deep underlying meaning to it. Will Danny choose the life he’s always known, the one that will manipulate his mind and keep control, or will he realize that love is the most powerful tool against evil?

Throughout the entire movie, you can connect with Danny on a deep level as he learns how to read music and play piano, as he remembers his past and what really happened to his mother, and as he becomes his own person no longer ruled by the master that promises only death.

I thought the film was excellently done; the fight scenes were exquisitely choreographed. There didn’t seem to be any plot holes. It was very intense, with each scene keeping you on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen next. Overall, I thought it was a well done movie. It really could have done without the sex and excessive language, but most every brittish film I’ve seen (yes this takes place in England) there’s always a lot of swearing.
My Ratings: Very Offensive/4½
Brian, age 20
Negative—Oh, how I wanted to like this movie! I am a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a brown belt in Shotokan karate. I find good movie martial arts to be akin to ballet. Expert martial artists are breathtaking (Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Li) as they seem to defy gravity and exploit their extreme flexibility.

Jet Li has really been given the shaft in the US. He is a true martial arts master, an above-average martial arts actor, and he has plenty of charisma. However, Hollywood doesn’t know how to package such a person. The Chinese know that a martial arts movie has to be, first and foremost, about martial arts. The US doesn’t think this will sell, so they add melodrama, rap stars, guns, explosions, tanks… anything they can think of to add to the action/spectacle.

Jet Li needs nothing added to him. Watch him in “Kiss of the Dragon.” It’s by no means a perfect film, but it lets him be who he is without adding anything unnecessary. It’s full of action and the plot is decent.

“Unleashed” is ridiculous. It’s so full of plot holes, I don’t know where to start. Danny (Li) is raised as a dog… his only duty is to fight when his collar is removed. Can he speak? It doesn’t seem so in the beginning. Then he does. Ok. Here’s a man in his 40s, who can whip anyone he chooses, but instead he shuffles behind his master and obediently goes into his cage when he’s done fighting. He never questions. He never talks. For 32 years? Stupid.

Then there are the fights. They were choreographed by Woo Ping (“The Matrix”). I was expecting brilliance ala “The Matrix,” “Crouching Tiger,” “Iron Monkey” …instead we get bland, uninspiring violence. The beauty of Jet’s physical prowess is reduced to that of a bar room brawl. Continually punching someone in the face about 20 times is laziness… unlike a beautifully executed reverse spinning split kick. This is B-movie trash.

I don’t even want to go into Morgan Freeman teaching Li how to live again. I do want to say that, even though it’s ridiculous, Li is still charasmatic enough to pull it off. As is Freeman and the young actress playing his step-daughter.

Stay away from “Unleashed.” It’s the kind of movie that makes people who aren’t martial artists scratch their heads and ask “why do people like this stuff?” For Christians, it will just make them squirm in their seats and offend them at every turn. There’s over-the-top violence, language, and sex.

If you haven’t seen “Crouching Tiger,” go rent it. If you haven’t seen Hero,” go rent it. The genre of the martial arts movie can have very broad appeal. There’s no need to keep creating these horrible movies that should go direct-to-video (like all of Stephen Segal’s recent efforts). Li is getting older and it makes me very sad to see him involved with all these horrible projects. He’s going the way of Jackie Chan… the more Americanized he gets, the worse his movies become.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive/3
Todd, age 31
Positive—I had been seeing a lot of previews for this movie at a game store I frequent. It looked like a good action flick that had some soft moments in it. I saw it opening day, and I was blown away. What a great movie. In most action films, the story takes a back seat to the action, but in this case, the story and charecters are what make this movie. It was very powerful to see Danny (Jet Li) progress from a single-thought dog to a human again. But don’t get me wrong, there were some awesome fight scenes (the best was one in a bathroom no bigger than an outhouse). Bottom-line, terrific movie.
My Ratings: Average/4½
Jonathan, age 20
Comments from young people
Positive—As far as moviemaking quality: there comes a time, in all of the really good movies (most notably “Star Wars”), usually fairly near the beginning, when the viewer is suddenly no longer worried whether or not he has wasted his money, and just sits back and relaxes and thinks to himself: this movie is going to be *awesome*!. This happened to me in “Unleashed” during the intro credits, and I was not disappointed.

First, there is the deep and thought-provoking storyline, as a man discovers within himself a humanity he never knew he possessed. This is handled extremely well. Also, the characters are extremely well developed, have definite personalities and pasts. Add on top of this the excellently performed and choreographed fight scenes.

That said, this is NOT a movie which you should take your kids to see. Danny (Jet Li) fights with a vicious, savage style to fit his character and the story. There is not very much blood (at least, as compared to movies such as “Black Hawk Down” and “Saving Private Ryan”). There is also some minor female nudity, in three places that I can recall, which flashes by very quickly, no more than about one to two seconds to a stretch. It is still visible, and does show quite a bit above the waist.

This movie is rated “R” for good reason. It is a very excellent adult movie.
My Ratings: Offensive/5
Robert Thomas, age 17
Positive—As a movie going kid (I’m 16), I realized within time what a real movie is supposed to hold, action, drama, good plot lines, and logical sense. Unleashed obviously showed enough action as it is, not saying that I hated it, but after I saw a few fight scenes showed Jet-li constantly badgering people in the chest, I thought, why? well, considering that Jet-Li must want to stay true to the character he is playing, he has to fight like his master wants him to fight. that’s reasonable becuase if you were never taught how to fight and your master just tells you to do it, all you know is to just hit them. Danny(Jet-Li) probably never learned martial arts, but through all the fighting, he has learned where to hit and has become MUCH stronger through it all. So his fighting in the movie was logical.

The plot of the movie was Danny learning how to live like a normal human being, with the help of Sam (Morgan Freeman) and Victoria (Kerry Condon), and leaving behind the murderous life that he has created for himself. Though he only listens too his master, he finally breaks loose of his grip by hearing the tunes of a piano, it finally awakens his mind. He ends up living with Sam and Victoria and seems to catch up with the english language. (notice when the movie starts, he barely speaks at all, but within time, living with Sam and Victoria, he begins to learn very quickly)

Now, some people ask why didn’t Danny just quit following his master’s orders… well, Danny’s master is the only reason why he is stil alive, Danny functions as if he is a Dog. I have a dog, and he faithfully follows his master, always. His master is me. Even if I Bop him on his head for something he should not have done, he still loves me, follows me, does what I want him to do. But if I were to ever beat him constantly, one day, I know he will turn back on me, he will eventually “awaken.” Just like Danny, he eventually see’s what his master is doing and he bites the hand that feeds him.

In every movie, if something doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t mean that the movie has “holes” in it, it just means that the director wants you to think about it, if only for a split second. These things only took me a few seconds too realize, so I didn’t see any holes left uncovered during the movie, I just thought about it.

As a christian, I was obviously conserned about the contents of this movie, and yes, I saw children there, which made me practically want to get them out of there, regardless of what the parents might say. Christian rating = very offensive. Movie quality = pretty darn good.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive/4
Jorge Figueroa, age 16
Movie Critics
…the fight scenes are bloody and there is a lot of extremely coarse language, as well as some brief female nudity…
…violent and messy… As for the fight scenes: ho hum…
Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune
…“Unleashed” needs only its first 30 seconds or so to elevate itself well above the average action potboiler…
Gregory Kirschling, Entertainment Weekly
…Although the action in “Unleashed” is modest, Jet Li’s mastery of martial arts offers stunning sequences…
Sean Axmaker, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
…ludicrous… a sort of violent and melancholic version of all those children’s books in which a dog dreams of becoming a boy…(2/4)
Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press