I missed the SXSW sneak premiere of the film in March, but I snagged Unleashed at a matinee showing this afternoon, and I'm impressed.
It's a Luc Besson film, and closer to The Professional (Léon) than The Fifth Element.
The film is a mix of heart-wrenching emotional scenes and gut-wrenching violence, and I think it pulls it off well. Not to introduce any spoilers, but in the film Li is the barely-human version of a psychotic attack dog who is separated from his owner. This is the story of his humanization.
It's not easy to convincingly portray the emotion and effort behind a Helen Keller/Baby Jessica rehabilitation in a sub-2-hour film. And though the piece struggles a bit, it works through the challenge admirably.
I hope this film does well. Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins are inarguably acting powerhouses, but Jet Li comes into his own in this film.
While Li came into mainstream U.S. focus as the bad ass in Lethal Weapon 4, follow-on films (notably Romeo Must Die and Hero/Ying xiong) have been sadly underrated. This film almost feels like a "one more time for Jet" effort, and I'd hate to see him go back to primarily Asian cinema due to lack of critical and popular success stateside.
But check out Unleashed. Jet Li has said , "... I think Unleashed is my best work yet ... and I believe that my fans will love it."
As an aside, Kerry Condon does a compelling job in the movie as Li's adoptive sister. She suffers a bit of a rough transition from loquacious teen to caring surrogate, but sails well after that.