|Star:||Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tchéky Karyo|
|Cert / Year:||18 - R / 2001|
Top Chinese government agent Liu Jiuan (Jet Li) is sent to Paris to help the French police apprehend a prominent drug dealer in a high level operation. Upon arrival, Liu Jiuan is greeted by French police inspector, Richard Tchéky Karyo, whom despite a generally brutal approach to police work, appears to welcome Liu's presence and assistance. But pretty soon things go somewhat awry and the drug lord the team are keeping under surveilance takes two prostitutes up to his hotel room and is promptly stabbed repeatedly by one of them. Liu is first on the scene and incapacitates the prostitute (by means of acupuncture) but soon witnesses Richard shooting her with Liu's gun. Now implicated and generally set up good fashion Liu is forced to go on the run from the corrupt French authorities in an unfamiliar city with no one but his "uncle" (Burt Kwouk) to help him. Liu discovers an unlikely ally in the shapely form of Jessica (Bridget Fonda) a prostitute, present during the murder, who was forced into prostitution by Richard. In return for helping him clear his name, Liu promises to help Jessica rescue her daughter which Richard is holding as insurance against her. A dangerous cat and mouse game ensues between Liu & Jessica and Richard and the corrupt French police.
What do you get when you take a story written by a professional and lifelong trained martial artist and Hong Kong cinema star like Jet Li and infuse it with the gallic flair and production values of say..... Luc Besson? Answer, Kiss of the Dragon. Before any of the more pharmeceutically challenged out there ask.... No! This is nothing to do with "chasing the Dragon".
High octane fight direction courtesy of the fantastic Corey Yuen, masterfully acted out by Jet Li. The action in general is well put together with explosions aplenty but realistically the martial arts are excellent. I have to admit that I did like the way that the film makers even managed to successfully highlight a fundamental flaw or downside to most Westernised martial arts. Whilst Jet Li is duelling with Richard's henchmen, he lures him into a narrow passageway that is littered with obstacles and potential hazards or enclosed area which negates any previous power, speed and any advantage he may have had. The more focussed Chinese martial arts are proven superior as Jet Li needs no large area in which to swing his legs or arm in a huge arc in order to achieve maximum power and execute a kick or punch, neither is he left wide open to attack as the restrictive, pre-determined set moves of the Western martial arts are useless outside of specific parameters. This was an interesting philosophical approach to some of the combat in the film and works well.
The story is simple enough and the script doesn't try to reach too far and remains within a pleasant martial arts thriller boundary. Surprisingly enough, the story was actually penned by Jet Li, which explains the more cerebral and philosophical aspects to what should by definition be a more action orientated film. The more thoughtful aspect despite being a little played down, works well and the use of acupuncture needles by the hero in favour of inflicting too much serious physical damage is a novel approach seldom seen. The story is good and doesn't overweave it's fabric and doesn't try to over complicate itself and cram all and sundry into the film which allows a steady narrative over the course of the film.
Kiss of The Dragon is not a "chop socky movie", nor is it a gun toting action movie. What it is though, is a non-overdramatic and good martial arts thriller richly textured with plenty of action that doesn't govern the story for a change. A good cast put in some excellent performances even if they are unlikely to get Oscars for them. Was good to see Burt Kwouk on screen again, but I'm afraid he will always be Cato from the Pink Panther movies for me. Bridget Fonda provides another of her typical nonchalant performances, managing the occasional brief flash of acting ability within a minimal range. She certainly wouldn't have been my first choice for that role, but she seems to carry a degree of beilievability as a drugged up whore. He isn't everyones choice as an action hero but Jet Li is excellent and always manages to bring a more subdued but subtle intensity to his performances, not to mention the fact that he can kick ass. Once again the suave Tchéky Karyo plays another of his fabulously nasty characters that you just love to hate.
An enjoyable and entertaining film, will undoubtibly appeal to the martial arts fans out there. Not your typically ham fisted approach to a martial arts thriller, that you'd expect from Hollywood and probably the best of Jet Li's US releases. I have to point out that there is a particular scene in the film where Jet Li faces off against a Police gymnasium dojo full of about 30 police martial artists. This is one of those rare scenes where everything works well and the kinetic fluidity of the ensuing battle is both staggering and impressive. It is a new classic martial arts scene, right up there with Bruce Lee's melee at the Japanese dojo in Fist of Fury.
Richard: What did you do to me?
Liu Jian: I put a needle in your neck.
Richard: That's it?
Liu Jian: It's called the Kiss of the Dragon.
Richard: Kiss my ass!
Kiss of the Dragon is a cut above the usual martial arts movie that has not been made in Asia. A neat Luc Besson script, an interesting French setting, and some stylish fight choreography. Add to this one of Asian cinemas greatest stars in Jet Li, and surely there is a formula that cannot fail. Well yes and no.
Yes in the so far as the action is superb. Jet Li is lightening fast and Corey Yuen's fight direction is nothing short of spectacular. Certain fights in particular are outstanding. There is the fight in the police gym against an army of martial arts students for a start. Then there is the little and large fight against the kicking blond henchmen duo. In fact it would not be wrong to say that any of the action in this film is nothing short of brilliant.
The problem lies in the gaps between the action. The great thing about Jet Li is his martial arts skills. The problem with him is his lack of acting skills. There is only a certain amount of standing around looking puzzled you can do without having to push the acting envelope a bit further. Unfortunately it appears the this is beyond him. Add to this the awful hooker with a heart doing things just for her annoying kid in Bridget Fonda and the remaining scenes become rather a drag. This is not helped any by the casting of Burt Kwouk a face that will always be linked to the Pink Panther movies. You just keep expecting some one to say not now Kato to him.
There are many things to like in Kiss of the Dragon. The action is superb, Jet Li's martial arts skills are awesome, and the setting adds a lot to the film. The poor acting in the linking segments is a shame, and a fact that brings the rating for the whole film down. This film is a good action movie and fans of the genre will enjoy its unusual flair. However there are better movies out there and Jet Li is still prove himself away from Hong Kong.
|2.35:1 Anamorphic||Good crisp image|
|5.1 Dolby Digital||Excellent soundtrack|
|Slick animated menus|
|Cool audio commentary by stars Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and director Chris Nahon|
|"Corey Yuen - Action Academy" - Cool action choreography featurette|
|"The Jet Li's Fight Philosophy" - Interesting and cool featurette|
|Interesting Storyboard comparison sequence - "the orphanage"|
|"Police Gymnasium sequence" - Superb Martial Arts demo|
|"The Laundry chute" - Cool Multi-angle sequence|
|On the set action|
|Good "Making of" featurette|
|6 TV Spots|
|An impressive disc packed with some interesting extras. Pity more releases weren't this good. A worthy addition to any martial arts collection.|