Jet Li Unleashed (2005): Surviving Abuse

 

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One of the more unusual martial arts films I’ve  seen, is one which stars Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), and Jet Li. Yeah, I said it. Morgan Freeman starred in a martial arts film. Okay he didn’t do any martial arts, which I definitely would have watched. He was a piano tuner, but that’s okay, because Jet Li engaged in enough rock’em, sock’em for everyone in the movie. This is an unusual movie, not just because of its dissimilar cast, but because it is as much of a drama, as it is an action movie.

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The movie’s first title was Danny the Dog, when it was released overseas in 2004. When it was released in the US, in 2005, it was renamed Unleashed, and received moderate reviews, probably because most people didn’t get to see it, and the ones who did see it didn’t quite know what to make of it. Its not a bad film, but it is a tonally odd movie, that somehow manages to work, and that is entirely due to the acting, and what mindset you bring to it.

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Morgan Freeman, as Sam, is his usual excellent self, and so is Bob Hoskins as an abusive gangster named Bart. Jet Li is Danny the Dog, and  does surprisingly well, as an emotionally stunted and abused young man, They are joined by Kerry Condon, as Danny’s bubbly love interest, Victoria. I actually enjoyed this movie, but then I walked in not really knowing what to expect, even though I had heard of the movie with its previous title.

Bart has been raising Danny, the son of a young woman he exploited and killed, as a beast who wears a metal collar, which, when it’s removed, is Danny’s cue to kill whoever  Bart has pointed his finger, first as one of Bart’s enforcers, and then in  underground fight clubs. Bart styles himself as a kindly uncle, who is just taking care of the helpless Danny, but he is horrifically abusive, treating Danny like an animal, putting him on a leash, making him eat out of dog dishes, and live in a  cage in the basement. He is a cartoonish example of abusive parenting, and clothes himself in virtue, by calling it love.

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One day Danny accidentally stumbles across Sam, fixing a piano in an antique shop, and the blind Sam, is kind and friendly to him, something Danny has never experienced. He becomes fascinated by the piano, and later, asks for one from Bart, but a rival gangster takes Bart out of the equation, via car crash. Danny is injured in the attack, but manages to find his way back to the antique shop where Sam works. Sam takes Danny in, and patches him up.

So thirty minutes into the movie, it turns into a found family story, that’s rather endearing, carried mostly on the strength of the acting. Danny is from a highly abusive, even life threatening, relationship with the man who raised him, while Victoria and Sam have an open, loving, and healthy relationship, with more than enough room to welcome Danny. A significant portion of the film is taken up with montages, and scenes, of Danny discovering the joys of ice cream, kissing, and both familial and romantic love, learning to cook with Sam, and  play the piano with Vic, and just be happy. He starts to regain memories of his mother and begins investigating his origins.

Victoria is also an adopted child, but she had the good luck to be raised by Sam instead of  someone like Bart. Victoria’s biological father died when she was small, and her mother married Sam. After her mother died, Sam became her father, and moved them both to France, so that she could go to music school. Sam’s love for his child, is as it should be, sacrificial, and supportive. They are a  family that prays before each meal, and fully embody the Christian principles of charity and kindness, and become a model for Danny for how a healthy family behaves.

Sam and Victoria are the stellar opposite  of  Bart, and the various flunkies who surround, and obey him, who all witness Danny being treated abusively, and say and do nothing. Bart is a man with many pretensions. He is a user who pretends  at kindness, a gangster with pretensions to class and upbringing, and a bully, who pretends to be a father figure. Thanks to Bart, Danny is emotionally underdeveloped, withdrawn, anxious, and extremely focused on any given task.

The first time Danny wakes up in Sam’s and Victoria’s home, he is frightened and nervous, and hides under the bed. At dinner, he doesn’t know to use a spoon for his soup, and he is still wearing his metal collar. But Sam and Victoria adapt to him as he adapts to them, and are as loving and supportive to him, as they are to each other. They suspect that he comes from a violent situation, and are sensitive about how they treat him, by not asking questions they think would cause traumatic memories ,and they teach him how to live a normal life, as Danny has never been taught to do anything but kill and is completely inured to violence.

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At one point, a fight breaks out in a local store that Sam and Danny frequent, which Danny entirely ignores, saying he was unconcerned because the fight didn’t involve him. This is how well trained Danny is with his collar on. Later, when Victoria reaches to take the collar off, saying its the last vestige of his old life he needs to get rid of, he is terrified that when she does so,  he will attack her, because the only times it was ever removed, he would kill. You can see his adrenaline spike just thinking about it, but he allows her to remove it, and when nothing happens you can see the relief on his face. He trusts himself now, in a way that would not have been possible, earlier in their relationship. As it turns out, he is not the natural born killer Bart trained him to be.

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https://www.loyola.edu/department/counseling-center/students/concerns/abuse

When children are exposed to abuse, they learn to protect themselves through denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, turning off their feelings, acting out, and self-blame. Using these coping mechanisms during childhood has long-term consequences, which can include lack of trust, a fear of change and resultant difficulty in adjusting, difficulty knowing or showing one’s own feelings, being easily stressed and acting on that by abusing substances, food, and one’s own body, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.

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Sam and Victoria model for Danny how a loving relationship between a stepparent and child is supposed to work.When Sam and Victoria have a disagreement, they argue, come to a truce, and then make up. They disagreed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still love each other. Contrast that with Danny’s relationship to his evil stepfather  Bart, who gives the orders, and, according to Bart, “the dog obeys!” There can be no disagreement with Bart. When Danny insists that he wants a piano, Bart is angry, manipulative, and cajoling. He screams and/or lies, to Danny, to get what HE wants.

Later, Danny refuses to fight, deciding he doesn’t want to kill people anymore, and Bart becomes increasingly angry and more violent, but is unable to force Danny to do what he wants him to do. Danny sees this powerlessness, and finally connects his mother’s death (which he witnessed as a child) to Bart. He rebels completely and leaves him. This move may or may not be especially cathartic to abuse survivors, but its was certainly good to watch Danny reject Bart. After experiencing so much happiness with Sam and Victoria, he can’t possibly make himself go back to that life.

Bart follows him to his home, with Sam and Victoria, and attempts to kill them, because threatening Danny’s new family is the only leverage he has to make him obey. Danny nearly kills Bart, but is stopped by Sam and Victoria who tell him that he cannot begin his commitment to peace by killing Bart. Bart’s life isn’t saved because Sam and Victoria care about him. Its saved because they love Danny and believe, as he does,  that he should stop killing.

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https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/survivors-child-abuse-remind/

#3. You Are Still Loved, Even When It’s Uncomfortable to Accept Love from Others

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At the end of the movie, Victoria tells Danny  his life was saved by music, and this may be true, but really Danny saves himself, by the choices he makes. Like a lot of abuse survivors, he is presented with the option of staying, as the abuser tries to sweet talk him into coming back, and how everything will better, and the abuser will be a nicer person, who really loves them. Classic abuser speak, basically.

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Danny realizes he actually has choices. He chooses to stop killing and commits to it,  he chooses to leave Bart, and sets the terms of it, and finally chooses not to kill Bart, not because he cares about Bart’s  life, but because he cares about his own. But one of the biggest choices Danny makes is the choice to accept  love and support, which is healing for him. With Sam and Victoria, Danny starts to do things he never contemplated when he was with Bart. He makes plans for his future, sets goals, and claims what he desires.

This is not a completely accurate depiction of surviving child abuse, because this is, after all, an action film, but it makes some interesting points about  it. I’m pretty sure  most of the people who walked into the theater to see this, had no idea this would turn into a movie about surviving domestic abuse, but I found it uplifting and fun to watch. True, not all martial arts movies have this level of  depth, but like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they sometimes have messages, and deal with  serious issues.

 

 

  • Next up on martial arts movies: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and  Colonialism

 

 

I Saw It On Youtube

Here’s a selection of unusual videos I found on Youtube. Unlike a lot of people, I try not to get too bogged down in whatever algorithms Youtube thinks I’m interested in. I like to just hop around from topic to topic, landing on whatever catches my eye. This is probably very confusing to Youtube, because it has no idea what the hell to offer to me, but that’s how I like it. And because I’m  a  contrary asshole, I pretty much throw most anything that is suggested to me out the window. I don’t want people, (or Youtube, for that matter), getting too comfortable with the idea that they know my specific tastes.

You Dont Know Me Youtube GIF

I stumbled across this group while searching the topic of whether or not Asian people dance. I have heard Korean and Japanese Rap and wondered if they  also breakdanced, (and how the hell would they possibly learn any of it except from Youtube). There’s this Asian kid, named Sean, in the Wildabeast tutorials, that I absolutely love to watch. Okay, Strawhatz isn’t much like those videos, but I thought the fusion of Japanese Koto music and Hip Hop was very  interesting, and the video was mildly funny.

 

I thought this next video was interesting because I love Chinese Martial Arts movies, and I love music. What if the two were combined into a Chinese Martial Hip Hop type thing. Apparently, it’s possible to confound Youtube by making it look for stuff its never heard of, and then it will just spit out something, hoping you asked for that.

 

On occasion, I do accept Youtube recommendations, like this one, because its just fecking weird. This is some of the most painful looking dancing I’ve ever watched. I’ve been raised to think of dancing as a joyful activity, but I suppose this kind of dancing is in keeping with my idea that the Japanese are, in general, somewhat melancholy, and they would invent something like Butoh. There are a bunch of documentaries about this form of dance on Youtube, as if the Japanese were hard-pressed to try to explain this peculiar form of dance to Westerners, knowing we wouldn’t understand what we were seeing.

 

The Hu is a Mongolian Hunnu Rock band, which is all the definition I got. I liked the idea of Rock music combined with Mongolian throat singing.  If there was ever any form of Eastern music that was a good  fit with Rock, it would be throat singing.

 

 

After Childish Gambino’s This Is America was released, there was a slew of parody videos. This one, based on the movie Black Panther, about Wakanda, was one of the better ones.

 

 

Jet Li’s  Martial short film came out some time ago and I missed it. I read about it in a magazine and luckily it was available on the Tube. Li looks so different from his movie image that I almost didn’t recognize him, and there were all kinds of rumors that he was ill, (he isn’t, he just shaved his head) but then I remember that he is in his 50s, and perhaps he simply wants to look more mature, which is something that is not a moment for crisis in Chinese culture.

 

 

Uhmm, Janet got a new album coming out…have a song!

 

 

I will never get tired of laughing at these balloon animal videos. I will laugh at them when I’m a hundred.

 

I am not a fan of spiders, to put it mildly, but I discovered these Lucas the Spider series, and apparently I am only afraid of actual spiders. Cartoon spiders don’t bother me. And omg! he is actually the cutest little cinnamon roll. He reminds me of the little jumping spiders that we saw on the outside of our house when I was a kid. I’m not the only one who thinks those little guys are cute, and Lucas just wants to be friends with everybody.

https://menunkatuck.org/conservation/bio-bits/tiny-jumping-spiders-are-endearing-predators/

Part Two : Favorite Martial Arts Fight Scenes

I have watched one hell of a lot of action movies in my 40 plus years, so you know I have a lot of favorite scenes. Too many to list, maybe. These are scenes I love to watch over and over, again, because they’re beautiful, or exciting, tragic  or sometimes uplifting.

I know a lot of people don’t watch such movies because to them it’s all just violence. And this may seem paradoxical, but I actually am a pacifist who hates confrontations. I’m also a realist,though and I acknowledge that there’s a part of me that’s violent and believes in a little ass-kickin’.. For me, watching fake movie violence is different from engaging in the real stuff, and the kind of distinction I make can probably only be understood by people who have experienced real life violence.

It’s the difference between fantasy and reality. Just because a person likes Lord of The Rings doesn’t mean they believe in elves and just because a person reads about true life crime, doesn’t mean they’re planning their own. Yes,  I have on occasion wished I could choke a bitch but I know that’s never going to happen and fake violence in movies is wonderfully cathartic for those urges. I can experience the pleasure of beating up a (no doubt about it) bad guy, without ever actually hurting anyone, (and technically, they aren’t getting hurt either).

As for what makes a great fight scene, it’s not just the fighting and the fighters.  Its the narrative of the fight, the camera angles, the clarity of  movement. You have to be able to clearly see and follow what the fighters are doing, in sequence. It’s not enough just to throw a fight scene into a movie, plenty of movies do that, but a great fight scene means something. There must be some kind of emotional payoff or furtherance of the plot. At the end of the fight there has to be a feeling of relief, that order has been restored, that the villain, if not defeated, can at least be redeemed, and that the fine, upstanding hero can get on with the rest of his/ her life.

So, here are my favorite movie scenes of bad guys getting their asses handed to them by fine, upstanding heroes, in no particular order:

Seven Samurai: One of the Best Samurai Sword Fights Ever!

 

The Enforcer: This is one of Jet Li’s most fun fight scenes. There’s some awesome synchronized Leg-Fu. I think the actor he’s fighting ,with all the leg and wrist  action, is named Rongguang.

Kung Fu Hustle: I love Jackie Chan but it is this movie that has some of the funniest fight scenes ever shown.. Directed by Stephen Chow, who also directed Shaolin Soccer, I love to watch this one with my niece. She totally gets the Looney Toons nature of this movie.I love the final fight,, in which the evil bad guy gets redeemed by the hero’s compassionate nature..

Fist of Legend:

I just watched this with the niece. We didn’t discuss the historical stuff because she’s kind of young for that but we did have an interesting talk about good and bad guys. Jet Li always has great fight scenes so its hard to pick just one. I like this one because Jet’s character shows compassion for his opponent, (his wife’s father, who has come to protect her honor), the fight ends mostly in a draw, and his opponent leaves with no hard feelings and even manages to impart a bit of wisdom that gets used later in the film, against another opponent.

Chinese Connection: This is actually the first Bruce Lee movie I ever saw and the messages of it and its fight scenes have had a great impression on me ever since. Oddly, the most important lesson I took from it, was about showing respect for  one’s teacher, since the entire plot revolves around two different schools of fighting, and the Japanese show their utter disdain for Chinese culture, by killing the other school’s teacher.

Once Upon a Time in China II: This is the first time I ever saw Donnie Yen in anything and he was fighting my favorite actor, jet Li,  and seriously holding his own. The only other time the two of them have ever fought, is at the beginning of  the movie, Hero.I love the artistry of this scene.

The Protector:This is the first Tony Jaa movie I ever watched, on the recommendation of a friend, who told me he was a lot like Jackie Chan. I do like to watch an actor do all their own stunts, so this definitely appealed to me. I like this scene because it was completely uncut. Its just one long take of Jaa, fighting his way up some stairs.

Daredevil: This is another uncut fight scene from the TV show Daredevil on Netflix. I liked how the creators gave real thought to it, approaching it with a level of authenticity that television doesn’t usually engage in.  Its hilarious  because his opponents just refuse to stay unconscious long enough for him to accomplish his goal, and he just becomes more and more exhausted, as this fight wears on, and they keep getting back up, but I also love the happy ending to this scene.

Captain America :The Winter Soldier: I think I’ve watched this scene about a thousand times. It’s fascinating, not just because its a great fight scene, but because of the emotional repercussions.. This is the first time Steve and Bucky have ever fought each other and Steve has no idea he’s trying to kill his best friend. The shock on his face, when he finds out, is priceless and unforgettable.This entire movie just brings the feels.

The Transporter: I’m not a huge Jason Statham fan  but I had to admit, that this fight scene, was a helluva lot of fun. Its stupid, it’s totally over the top, and goes on much too long, but Jason, though not graceful, moves very well and looks good doing it.

Blade II: I’m also not a huge fan of Wesley Snipes but I like the work he did in the Blade films. His moves are clear, clean and precise. I have no idea what technique he’s using, but he looks good, and its filmed about as well as American directors usually cut  this type of stuff. I do have it on good authority that it was Donnie Yen who directed a lot of the fight scenes in Blade II.

Kill Bill V.2: I know people love the fight scenes from the first movie. I do too but I was not expecting to love this one between Uma Thurman and Darryl Hannah. I hadn’t seen Daryl  fight since Bladerunner, so it was especially fun to see her put her shit down, after so long, and at her age. This fight scene also has all the feels, as it has the weight of  history behind it. These are  two women who would’ve been rivals, no matter what, as Daryl’s character, Elle, was never more than The Bride’s replacement, and she always knew that. There’s even a bit of teacher vengeance thrown in, too.

Honorable Mentions:

 The Grandmaster – Any scene with Zhang Ziyi.

The Raid: Basically the whole movie

Kill Bill V1. : The entire last hour of this movie is basically an awesome montage of every great fight scene from just about every Martial Arts movie ever made.

Iron Monkey: The Cleanup Scene, shot in slow motion, in which the proprietors of a local  diner, clean up the night’s detritus using Kung Fu.  See! Kung Fu movies aren’t always about violence. Sometimes people do perfectly ordinary things with their skills besides kicking each other.

I cold go on and on, listing all the beautiful, tragic violent or brutal fight scenes that have stuck in my imagination but I’ll stop here because this post is getting much longer than I wanted.

In Part Three, lets talk about The Legend of Drunken Master or Drunken Master II.