Danny the Dog
R3 - Hong Kong - Panorama Distributions
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (18th November 2005).
The Film

I havenít been all that impressed with Jet LiĎs English language films of late, and it seemed like a never ending string of one action stinker after the next Kiss of the Dragon (2001), The One (2001), Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) all looked promising from their trailers but never managed to deliver the same greatness that we saw in Liís Hong Kong films. Having been disappointed with these previous efforts I wasnít entirely sure what to expect from Danny the Dog having only read a little about it here and there I knew the style was different from his previous films and that the film had two very distinct worlds that it captured. My first encounter with this film was at a theatrical preview screening, there were definitely parts that stuck with me and that were brilliantly executed however there were also parts of the film that I found a little lacking. Having been sent the DVD to review I was given an opportunity to revisit the film and form a more solid opinion.
Danny the Dog tells the story of Danny (Jet Li) , a slave who has lived his whole life without any sort of normal human education, with the mind and personality of a young child heís learned only one lesson: how to fight. Treated like a dog by his owner/boss Bart (Bob Hoskins), which includes having to wear a collar, Danny has been raised to be a lethal fighting machine who fights in illegal gladiator-style fight clubs, where he earns lots of money for Bart as the undisputed champion. After a devastating car accident, Danny run away from Bart and meets Sam (Morgan Freeman) a kind elderly blind piano tuner. He takes him in and teaches him things about the world and about begin human. Suddenly after being content with his new life Danny is discovered by one of Bartís goons and reveals that Bart is very much alive and wants his precious Danny back and is forced back into the fighting world, but Danny fights back after learning a devastating secret about his birth mother that Bartís been hiding for years and fights back to return to the life he has with the blind piano tuner and his daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon).
The film is very distinct in its style, the part with Danny and Bart has a very Ďgrittyí raw energy to it, even the performances are very 'British gangster' ala Guy Ritchie. It has the feel of a rock music video seen through eyes of someone in the middle of an acid trip. On the flipside are the parts of the film with Sam and Victoria, a stark contrast. While Bart is evil and manipulative Sam and Victoria are friendly and comforting in keeping with this these parts of the film are shot with warn tones, lots of red and yellow especially the interiors. Even the style of direction seems to take a different shift during these moments in the film. These two very distinct styles make for a rather schizophrenic viewing experience. On one side you have a mean blood soaked unforgiving fighting world while on the other you have a loving, caring family environment. Itís something that when put onto paper youíd think wouldnít work but strangely enough it does. It creates a clear divide (The good and the bad of this world) for the character Danny, which is the cause of his conflict in this story.
One canít review this film without mentioning both the fight scenes and Liís performance. First off the fighting style here is much different than what youíve previously seen with Li. The character of Danny has not been privy to formal training so his fighting style is a mish-mash of street-style moves. Itís very fast, raw and unpredictable. A style that was perfected by fight choreographer Master Yuen Woo-Ping. Additionally Liís performance is one of the hallmarks of this film, showcasing a childlike quality that is heartbreaking but also very touching, exhibiting some wonderful character moments with Sam and Victoria, yet on the flip-side he can change from gentle child to ferocious animal at the release of a collar. Casting heavy weights such as Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins (who brings to the picture a brilliant character performance reminiscent of his performance of Harold Shand in the 1980 gangster classic The Long Good Friday) playing along Li has clearly brought his game up, and goes toe to toe with these two without having much dialogue. Li plays the tormented silent character very well, you can feel it through his expressions and body language.
Now although the film had some great action and acting there are a couple things that left me with a little bitter taste in my mouth. First of all the casting of Kerry Condon may been right for the role of Victoria in terms Ďlookí but having an Irish native play a New York American convincingly youíll need to do some serious dialogue coaching, something that doesnít seem to have been paid enough attention to. Her over-the-top Ďput-oní accent was rather annoying, her accent can be compared to the noise that emits from an old rusty hand-crank drill. Also I found that she was far too energetic for the scenes she was in, it didnít always fit.
I also felt that the film went on a little too long, there were moments that could have been trimmed primarily during the dramatic parts with Sam and Victoria, there is a scene where Victoria meets Danny for the first time and basically rambles on about herself and her family, only later to be explained yet again by Sam. One of these scenes could have been cut there was no need for the repetition. Also some of the Bart moments could also have been trimmed to create a faster pace.
Overall itís an interesting film that has a fair bit of action and drama, itís certainly different than most filmís youíll see this year. Iím not sure how Liís traditional fan base with think of this film, otherwise itís worth checking out.

Video

Presented in the filmís original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this anamorphic transfer does the job, although isnít entirely perfect. The filmís look is rather Ďgrittyí blue-green hues make up the colour palate for a lot of the film that involve the fighting and rough stuff storyline, on the other hand the dramatic parts of the film were presented with warn tones, a stark contrast to the rest of the film. The Ďgrittyí footage seems to have a lot of film grain throughout it, whether this was a stylistic choice or not Iím not entirely sure, but adds a certain rough texture that enhances the feel of those parts of the film. The filmís look is rather dark, even the dramatic scenes which are played out with sincerity are also lit in a way to create shape and definition in the performerís faces, itís here were the transfer fails us a little, the blacks are not as bold and defined as Iíd have expected for such a new film, additionally shadow detail is also lacking, for the most part it holds up well however there are a few scenes where it was sometimes difficult to see detail, especially in some backgrounds. I also noticed some minor edge enhancement, thankfully this wasnít a trend used continuously. Aside from these complaints the transfer presents the film quite well.

Audio

This disc includes four audio tracks to choose from, they include an English DTS ES 6.1 Matrix surround track, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, a Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and finally a Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with the English DTS ES track. This track is half bit-rate quality (which is strange considering the DTS trailer that plays prior to the film is full bit-rate!), the dialogue is flawless, no distortion at all. The track is entirely immersive, especially during the fight scenes, you feel as if you right in the middle of all the action. A sign of a well-balanced surround track, nothing here feels out of place. Additionally the music is beautifully rendered throughout the entire soundscape, this is one of the many highlights of this excellent track.
The film also includes optional subtitles in English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

Extras

The first extra you will come across are the Full Versions of Action Scenes, these are extended fight scenes. All of these scenes are in the final version of the film, however when they were shot and originally cut together these fights went on for far too long. Here we have four scenes presented untouched in their original form. They are all presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 in a rather rough form, I wouldnít be surprised if these were ported directly from the Avid screens, as they all also have time codes. These scenes include:
- Jewelry Fight which runs for 2 minutes 56 seconds, here Danny fights a few more goons in the shop before he deals with Raffles (Vincent Regan).
- Swimming Pool Fight which runs for 3 minutes 38 seconds, shows the scene where Danny is thrown into the drained pool to fight the three challengers, the only extra footage here is of the three challengers getting hyped up and some additional fight moments with a knife, thatís about it.
- Final Fight 1 runs for 2 minutes 29 seconds, here is of the massive action sequence near the end of the film, we get some additional reactions from the thug who gets his leg broken plus some additional dialogue from Bart to the mysterious bald fighter dressed in white.
- Final Fight 2 runs for 1 minute 28 seconds and features the second part of that action sequence with Danny fighting the man in white, we get a few additional hits here.

Next up is the Making-Of documentary that runs for 36 minutes 20 seconds. This piece was originally made for the French audience, itís mainly in French but also has a some excerpts in English. Thankfully the DVD includes subtitles for this in English! This feature explains the genesis of the project,Luc Besson created this film as a starring vehicle for Jet Li after they had worked together on Kiss of the Dragon (2001). The piece also covers the casting of the film, and behind-the-scene clips of the filming with director Louis Leterrier. Additionally we get some great insight into the characters, how Li prepared for this role, which sontains much more dramatic elements than heís played in the past. We learn that Morgan Freeman helped create the character of Sam by making him blind, a suggestion the director took on board. There are some funny moments in this piece that made me laugh especially when Leterrier was talking about the casting of Victoria character. Initially they were going to look for a beautiful woman but the character does not have a boyfriend and is supposed to be a geek so he picked Kerry Condon because she was - and I quote stupid looking which apparently fits well with the character. Overall youíll get a condensed but informative look at the making of this film, a full blown making-of would have been ideal but this will have to do.

Following that we have the Making-of FX featurette which runs for 2 minutes 4 seconds. This is basically a montage clip of the shot were the camera tracks into the piano and follows the cords all the way to the keys. Itís the scene at the end where Danny is remembering his mother play the piano. We get a progression of the effect from rough composite to final version. This extra would have benefited greatly if it had included a commentarywith someone who did the FX describing the different stages, but alas we donít get that.

Next is a single deleted scene which runs for 43 seconds called Blue Fight here we see Danny beating put some thugs while Bart watches on. There isnít any dialogue in this scene, and to be honest Iím not sure where this scene would have taken place in the film. Oh well, I guess thatís why itís been deleted.

We also get a collection of outtakes which run for 3 minutes 25 seconds. We get some line flubs and mistakes during filming some are funny while most are only slightly amusing.

The filmís original French theatrical trailer is included and runs for 2 minutes 18 seconds.

Rounding out the extras is a music video entitled Baby Boy by RZA which runs for 3 minutes 3 seconds, but what we get here is some woman singing some soft pop stuff, much to my surprise I was expecting a rap video since it was advertised as a video by RZA. Iím not sure who this woman is?

Packaging

Panorama Distributions have packed this film in a handsome glossy 2-disc digi-pack case with a durable cardboard slip cover.

Overall

Danny the Dog is a very different action film, one that marries intense action with touching drama. Liís performance is excellent and well defined as are his supporting cast, some annoying elements including the character of Victoria and also the film could have used a trim here and there, otherwise a well made feature.
The DVD includes a decent enough transfer that does the job with a stellar soundtrack and a few moderate extras that will keep you occupied for a short period of time. An audio commentary would have been a nice touch but we are deprived of one, if you enjoyed this film then the Panorama DVD is worth picking up, if you havenít seen this film a rental is recommended first.

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: A+ Extras: C+ Overall: B+

 


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