Danny (Jet Li) is the human equivalent of a dog, and he is owned by British gangster Bart (Bob Hoskins). He keeps Danny in a cage under his office, feeds and clothes him and all in return for doing his dirty work. This is because the unfortunate man is an expert fighter in hand to hand combat and whenever Bart has money that needs to be reclaimed, he threatens his debtors with unleashing his "dog" on them. This he does by taking off Danny's collar, the signal that he must turn violent on whoever he is told to, but for how long can he live like this? Isn't there any humanity in that much-abused mind of his?
Producer Luc Besson has made many action movies over the years, far more than he has ever directed himself, and with this he created a plotline especially for his star and co-producer Jet Li, who you can tell was eager to participate. Put it down to a role that not only shows off his martial arts prowess, but his softer side as well, for Danny doesn't simply go around killing people for ninety minutes, he also gets to emote alongside Academy Award Winner Morgan Freeman into the bargain. OK, the role doesn't exactly stretch him, but he does work up a great deal of sympathy for his character.
Unleashed appears to be set in some odd fairy tale land that looks like Glasgow yet has no Glaswegian people in it: all the gangsters are sporting London accents, and even the bit parts of the supposed residents of the city, marked out by recognisable locations that director Louis Leterrier seems eager to include for scene-setting, sound English. Out of all of them, just Phyllida Law is there to represent Glasgow, and she has a posh accent that might not be immediately associated with the dear green place by those unfamiliar with it.
That fable-like atmosphere is only enhanced by the curiously twee narrative that starts with Li smashing heads open and Hoskins swearing his head off, then Danny escapes and wanders back to Sam (Freeman), a blind piano tuner he briefly made friends with who takes him under his wing, allowing him to stay at his flat which he shares with his stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). These characters are American, explained away by Victoria attending university there, and adding to the multinational porridge of the production.
Although we are led to believe Bart is now dead at the hands of a rival and Danny is free to go shopping and shyly romance Victoria, his new, peaceful lifestyle will not last and the violence he hoped to leave behind catches up with him. Bart is not deceased after all, and is keen to get Danny back, but his pet has now decided he does not want to kill anymore - the reason he still has our sympathies is down to the fact that when he was murdering he didn't know any better and was essentially an extension of Bart's aggression, not his own. If you approach Unleashed as a strain of action fantasy that may not include any supernatural elements but is no less outlandish for all that, then you should get along with it, as sentimental as it is; though some do like a dose of tearjerking along with their bone-crunching violence. Music by Massive Attack.