‘Unleashed’ is a martial arts film that revolves around Danny, an enforcer and bodyguard for Bart, a loan shark. He is also known as Danny the Dog, owing to the dog collar he wears around his neck and because of the training Bart has put him through since childhood to be docile once the collar is on and violent when the collar comes off. But when a violent attack leaves Bart in a near-death condition, Danny is accidentally set free and ventures out into the world outside for the first time. There he meets a blind piano tuner named Sam, who takes Danny home with him.
At his place, Danny he’s taught what it’s like to be human with the help of Sam’s daughter, Victoria. But for just how long will Danny’s peaceful life continue? Directed by Louis Leterrier, the 2005 film features phenomenal performances by Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, and Kerry Condon. A fast-paced and action-packed film, ‘Unleashed’ captivates the audience’s minds and takes them into a world of underground death matches and organized crime. But while the matches and the crimes committed might very well be true, is there any basis for Danny and his dog collar training in actuality? Let’s dive in and find out together!
Is Unleashed a True Story?
No, ‘Unleashed’ is not a true story. The screenplay was written by Luc Besson and was first pitched to actor Jet Li, who is also one of the producers of the film, as “you play do, save by the music” by Besson. “A few years ago, I talked to Luc [Besson], and he gave me some idea making another action film because it had worked before. I didn’t like all the ideas. I say sounds like familiar. I want to do something I never had a chance to play. I had one message, say ‘violence is not the only solution,’” the actor told Movieweb.
He continued, “Then two days later he gave me the idea, ‘What about you play dog, save by the music?’ I go ‘Dog save by the music. Okay, cool.’ Then we start to find a writer to work on this movie and I like it very much. I try very hard.” The film caters to fans of both action and drama, and gives Li a chance to flex his acting prowess. The near-instant switches that he makes from a violent and unhinged martial artist to a tame “dog” squatting down in front of people, to the way he walks almost on all four, sometimes with ease, all point towards his prolific body language that he puts to great use in ‘Unleashed.’
Adding to the emotionally charged side of things is Morgan Freeman, who portrays Sam, a piano tuner who is blind. Interestingly, it was Freeman’s own idea to portray a person who is blind. “I thought the character, I didn’t think it, I felt it, but I thought that the character was too perfect. He was too sensitive, I guess. So I needed something temperate and it occurred to me that if he was blind, and well it didn’t occur to me, but it now occurs to me that if he were blind the blind are not visually judgmental. They’re not deciding to make judgments right now based on what they see,” Morgan told Movieweb.
The actor added, “The blind don’t have that sort of thing. They don’t see it coming. So this whole sensitivity to other people, there was that and then, of course, he’s a piano tuner and so that would help a lot.” Both Morgan Freeman and Jet Li have some beautiful shots together in ‘Unleashed,’ such as that of their first meeting when Sam is playing an old piano in a dimly lit warehouse, and Danny slowly slinks towards him and climbs on top of the piano. This single sequence establishes their nature – Sam as the non-judgemental and welcoming old man and Danny as somebody who is curious about the world.
Speaking on what it was like working together, Freeman added, “He has great dramatic chops. He was not brand new to this. He’s a huge star in China and has been for many, many years. You’re going to talk to Jet in a bit and he’ll say that he learned a lot working with me, but I reject that. I don’t think that anyone learns anything. Well, I mean, you do always learn something if you have your eyes and ears open.”
Freeman concluded, “You do learn something from every outing, every time that you go for it. But for me what actors do is interact and that’s why you have to do that and he’s good at that.” As a high-octane action film, ‘Unleashed’ uses every bit of Besson’s imagination to deliver to the audience the adverse effects of violence. The kindness it presents through the characters of Sam and Victoria is definitely something we could use more of in the world.
Read More: Where Was Unleashed Filmed?