The conventions of the martial arts movie are fairly straightforward. The bad guys spend the first part of the movie behaving abominably, so that we will cheer when the hero finally administers the merciless beating they so richly deserve. The hero is spiritual, and sexually chaste, while the bad guys are degenerate and evil. Plot and character development are contrivances that serve only to propel the action forward. Nobody thinks to shoot the hero with a gun. Done well, it's a lot of fun to watch.
Jet Li is one of the best, and best known, martial artists working in film today. Now in his forties, he has been an international star since the 1991 Once Upon a Time in China. In his early Chinese films, which used no special effects, we see a marvelous athlete, a performer who blends martial arts, gymnastics, and ballet into a seamless, graceful spectacle. But Li wanted to work on a film that would transcend the genre constraints of the kung fu epic. He wanted a chance to act in a multi-dimensional role.
The results are mixed. Li's Danny has been conditioned by sensory deprivation and behavioral conditioning to behave like an attack dog. He is kept in a cage and fed scraps. He cringes like a dog as he follows his master, Bart (Hoskins) on his loan shark collections. When Bart removes Danny's dog collar Danny attacks with the single-mindedness of a pit bull, mauling those who are behind in their payments. When the carnage is complete he returns to his master, who replaces the collar. Once the collar is on, Danny is constrained and cowed.
For the character of Danny, Li chose to change his fighting style to reflect the way a dog would attack. Instead of dispatching multiple opponents with a punch here and a kick there, Danny focuses ...1
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