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‘…Unleashed has some odd moves, meshing cloying self-actualisation sentiments with brutal fights, but manages to do both of these things well enough to please casual viewers…’

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 on streaming services. 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 including the Clyde river itself and the Argyle Arcade; it 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.

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 combo 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, 2023 Oscar nominee for The Banshees of Inishirin) 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 today’s 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 boldly claims is ‘the best supermarket in Glasgow’ as they feel up the selection of fruit and veg that seem to have been imported 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 wasn’t well taken care of and has since been destroyed by fire (in 2014 and then again in 2018).

Unleashed has some odd moves, meshing cloying self-actualisation sentiments with brutal fights, but manages to do both of these things well enough to please casual viewers. It’s a better vehicle for Li than Kiss of the Dragon, and the 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.


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    • He’s got gravitas up the wazoo! Your only chance to see him in the West End of Glasgow’s 8 till late shops…

  1. So is Freeman the blind swordsman who teaches Li how to channel his inner force and win his daughter while chopping up a piano?
    I’ve seen Li in Hero, The One and probably some other random stuff (oh, the Expendables, but he wasn’t actually in that franchise very much). I did see another one where every time he hit someone they would show an x-ray scene of that person’s bones breaking. So overall, I’ve avoided Li as his movies always seemed graphically violent for no reason.

  2. I think you have a winner here. Jet Li has been badly served by Hollywood, but Luc Besson might be a better bet. It certainly looks intriguing. Is it on DVD or streamers? It reminds me of the attempt to stage car chases and the like on Glasgow streets by a Bollywood action film, Tezz in 2012. Have you seen that?

    • That’s a hot tip! We do have Bollywood films up here, so I’ll seek out Tezz, that’s new to me, thanks!

      Unleashed is new on Netflix UK, and it’s one of Ali’s better efforts…

  3. Being destroyed by fire once is a tragedy. Being destroyed by fire twice only a few years later is carelessness. Nice homer review. What’s the timestamp on your cameo?

    • I’m not actually in this one, but my local shop is. They absolutely do not stock the fruit and vegetables seen in this film. Monster Munch and Irn Bru are the only fruit sold there.

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