After The One, I had actually almost vowed not to see another 'modern' Jet Li film for a while. But then I came across Danny the Dog, which is very different from your average Jet Li flick, whether modern or 'classical'. It aims at being more than just another action movie -as Jet Li himself put it in an answer to a fan letter on his website: "I hope to use this character to tell young audiences that no matter what skills you develop, you need to understand the value of life. Life, love, friends, family -- these are what is really important and cool. Not violence or 'kicking someone's ass'."
(Can't remember where this screenshot came from ...)
Since he was a little boy, Danny (Jet Li) has been trained by the Glasgow gangster boss Bart (Bob Hoskins) to become a psychologically mutilated killing machine, a tool for his master for collecting 'protection money', killing everything in his way if his collar is taken off.
One day, Bart is offered to have Danny fight in an underground club, where gladiator games are fought to the death for loads of money. But on the way back from the first gig, they are suddenly ambushed, and Danny staggers away from the wrecked car alone.
(Screenshot courtesy jetlionline.com)
He then meets a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his young step-daughter (Kerry Condon), who take him into their home and treat him like a family member. Gradually, as Danny gets exposed to nice things like music, cooking and love, he learns to become more balanced and conscious, and also starts wondering about where he really comes from, and what his blurry memories of his mother were all about.
But his master has survived the ambush, and wants to take back what he regards as his property ...
(Screenshot courtesy hongkongaction.free.fr)
Unfortunately, Luc Besson, Louis Leterrier & Co. have made one big mistake. There is something quite essential missing between the last scene and the next-to-last scene.The way it is now, it seems too much like some kind of dream. It really is a highly symbolic film about concepts like 'good' and 'bad', but it's also trying to be rather realistic. That way, you'd expect to know how things are actually sorted out - what becomes of Bart, what becomes of the other gangsters, how the mess in the whole apartment building is cleaned up afterwards, what the Glasgow police has to say about the whole business, etc.
Oh well. If you just pretend there is a scene or two accidentally missing at the end, it's a good film. If not, you might feel a bit disappointed or confused ...
The martial arts, coreographed by the famed Yuen Woo-Ping, are very realistic, in the sense that it makes you feel horrible watching it, and you feel sorry for Danny's 'victims', because they really don't have anything to put up against him.
It becomes a bit more technically interesting when Bart hires a highly skilled wannabe fighter monk in flowing white silk to take out Danny ...
(Screenshot courtesy jetlionline.com)
A surprisingly big point is made of Bart telling Danny that his mother was a whore, and how terrible this seems to him. It eventually turns out that he was lying, and that she was actually a piano virtuoso studying at a Glasgow conservatory, albeit with financial problems that got her somehow involved with Bart's gangsters.
But so what if she would have been trying to alleviate her financial problems by working as a prostitute? Would that have made her a less lovable mother? I can't see why.
(Besides, the couple of prostitutes that appear in the film (their services bought by Bart) seem to be pretty decent people, who walk away in horror when they happen to see Danny in the small cellar beneath the office.)
Danny is a very sweet person deep within, who might rather appeal to your motherly instincts if you're in that kind of mood. He also behaves much like a little doggie, if you should happen to have that kind of fetish ... ^_^ (in preparation for his role, Jet Li says he spent a lot of time observing and playing with dogs).
Danny sharing a brief moment of bonding with a bull terrier. (Screenshot courtesy allocine.fr)
A note on speciesism:
One might be tempted to think that Danny is "treated like a dog", as if it would be normal for dogs to be treated like this. Or, one might be tempted to think that Danny is "like a dog" before he learns to become "human".
There certainly are far too many dogs who are trained with very cruel methods to become psychologically mutilated killing machines, in much the same way as Danny. But it doesn't mean that it's normal or, to say the least, okay to treat any dog like that.
And, actually, many other animals, besides humans, know and live out concepts like love, friendship, mutual help, etc. Not least animals who live in packs, such as dogs.