It’s an ill wind that blows no good; Louis Leterrier’s 2005 martial-arts thriller maybe something of a mixed bag, but it’s also got some grace notes which make it worth exhuming. Written by Luc Besson for his EuropaCorp imprint, it’s a gritty underworld fable with a over-qualified cast, plus a strange streak of sentimentality and some striking Glasgow locations; this is arguably the one film that captures the inside and outside of Glasgow School of Art, a building so unique that it was always worth re-routing any walk across the city-centre to catch a little of its sadly-now-lost majesty.
But we digress. Danny (Jet Li) is a mob enforcer, the pet of Bart (Bob Hoskins) the kind of protection racketeer who is driven around the city in a white suit and jag and employs Danny to rough up those who unwisely attempt to hold back the readies. After Bart is the victim of a gang-land hit, the monosyllabic Danny finds himself adopted into the household of a typical Glaswegian, a blind piano teacher named Sam played by Morgan Freeman. Sam’s daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) charms Danny with music and unlocks a talent for playing instruments, but Danny’s past won’t stay hidden, and soon reminders of his violent deeds come back to haunt him.
Unleashed was shot in Paris with Glasgow exteriors to match; it’s certainly an interesting picture of modern Scotland, where champagne-quaffing gamblers gather to watch gladiatorial combat to the death in disused swimming pools. Freeman and Li appear at my local Spar-licenced bodega in Broomhill Cross, which Sam claims is ‘the best supermarket in Glasgow’ as they feel up the selection of melons that seem to have been important for the occasion. And Victoria is studying to play the piano at Glasgow School of Art, which has no music school, raising a few questions. The school, however, looks terrific, a classic Charles Rennie Mackintosh constuction, the building has now been destroyed by fire (twice) and unlikely to be seen again like this in our lifetimes.
Unleashed has some odd moves, meshing cloying self-actualisation with brutal fights, but manages to do both of these things well enough. It’s a better vehicle for Li than Kiss of the Dragon, and the bizarre snapshot of Scottish life described here should cause some amusement, much like the sight of Li in a red-hair and tartan CU Jimmy hat.