Frequent commenter and regular site visitor The Mysterious Adrian Betamax, who only reads articles from this blog by printing them out and taking them along on bathroom visits (which I take, believe it or not, as a huge compliment, knowing as I do the sanctity of one’s bathroom reading time), has harangued me in person about my enthusiasm for Unleashed. He held that my claim of Jet Li never having displayed better form as a martial artist than he does in this movie was evidence that I hadn’t seen any good Jet Li movies.
There are a couple of things wrong with this complaint. I think that having seen and loved Once Upon a Time in China series, Tai Chi Master, Fong Sai Yuk and Fist of Legend might suggest that I have at least an inkling as to what constitutes a good Jet Li action performance. Of course, I’ve not seen every Jet Li movie, good or bad, so how could I make such a claim that Unleashed featured his best work as a martial artist? The answer: I didn’t. A quick look back at my comments reveals that what I actually wrote was, “Li has never been better as an actor, and perhaps never better as a pure martial artist, than in this movie.”
The key word, of course, is “perhaps.” “Perhaps” is important because, as anyone who has even seen a picture of me ought to be able to suss out fairly easily, I’m not a martial artist myself and would be foolish to claim any expertise about them in any other light but my own experience of them in movies. I can only make assessments about this kind of athletic performance within the framework that the movie constructs, so any judgment I put forth about the quality of the performance of a martial artist must necessarily be read with this qualification in mind (a qualification I suspect also holds true for the Mysterious Adrian Betamax and 90% of all other appreciators of movie kung fu fighting).
The word “perhaps” also implicitly invites the suggestion that there may be other, better examples out there to which I would gladly be directed by anyone with knowledge of them, since my experience with Jet Li movies is incomplete, as is my experience with almost any nameable film artist (the only all-knowing, all-seeing completist I know of is the giant pulsating brain that resides behind the oversized curtain in the city at the heart of the Internet Movie Database, and even it doesn’t really have it all covered). Film writers should be able to be relied upon for the intelligent application of thought and experience to the films they write about, but it should never be assumed by the reader, nor implied by the writer, that one’s knowledge is sufficiently all-encompassing to make sweeping pronouncements of the kind the M.A.B. took me to be making. I will say, however, that I should have been as qualified in my assessment of his acting and wrote instead, “Li may have never been better as an actor than in his movie,” to avoid anyone assuming I’m trying to claim absolute knowledge of Jet Li as an actor either.
All that said, I stand by my enthusiastic endorsement of the movie. I suspect the M.A.B. may object to Unleashed because it is not a Hong Kong-generated film, but that would only be a guess, because he has yet to actually articulate to me why the movie is no good, in fact, flat-out awful. Therefore, I invite him, or anyone else who has seen Unleashed and passionately disagrees with my high opinion of it, to check in on the comments column of this post and tell me why I’m wrong. I’m not interested in discrediting anybody for their reactions, but I certainly would be interested in hearing about them, and I will argue back. The collar on this debate has now been removed.