Kiss of the Dragon
The French have given us hairy women, overpriced wine, and Euro Disney. The first shots have been fired, isn't it about time someone hit them back?
Deep in the land of unshaven pits, Jet Lee fights for justice in Kiss of the Dragon. Sent by the Chinese government to assist the all powerful French Police in capturing a notorious Chinese gangster working on French soil, Jet Lee is caught up in the corrupt, murdering intrigue of the evil French police force. When the French head inspector sets him up as his patsy, Jet sets out to prove his innocence and rescues a few hookers on the way.
While it is somewhat satisfying watching the French get some pay back at the hands of Chinese justice, it's a little unsettling to see the French police portrayed as little more than some lawless Mafia crime syndicate. We always assume these types of corruption are more indicative of somewhere like Russia rather than in so-called civilized France. It's rather unsettling and pretty far-fetched to watch police/mafia commandos having free run of Paris, murdering tourists and restaurateurs by the dozens on their merry jaunt through the city.
But, reality has never been much of an obstacle for a Jet Li movie, why should it become an issue now? Really though, this is probably the most down to earth, believable film he's ever made. Except for the slightly off kilter portrayal of the French police force as barbaric hordes, Kiss of the Dragon showcases a gritty eye to realism and detail. Glass broken in a fight actually cuts, people shot in the stomach actually DIE, and innocent bystanders really get hurt. That seems like a given, but it's not something you rarely see in modern action movies of any type, let alone a poofy Hong Kong martial arts film.
However, as always, Jet's film is hampered by his total inability to command ANY screen presence when he's not kicking some poor schmo in the gut. Arnold Schwartzenager may not be able to act, but when he's on-screen, you FEEL it, and he really holds your attention. As they did in Jet Li's other 2001 film The One, the people behind KOTD compensated. Jet Li can't act, and when he talks it's not particularly interesting. So give him as LITTLE to say as possible. Stick him with some chatty broad (in this case played by Bridget Fonda), make him look like he's shy or the strong silent type, so he doesn't really even have to open his mouth. Whoever is running the show for Jet should get a medal. This works. In retrospect, its a bit odd that the lead actor in a film probably has fewer lines than most of the supporting actors, but this is the only way to get a decent film out of a guy who so clearly has an amazing talent as a martial artist. Keep him quiet, keep him kicking, and everything will be OK.
Indeed, martial arts are the centerpiece of this highly animated and enjoyable film. The fighting is fast paced and gritty, without any of the far to overused wire-fu permeating most other non-Jackie Chan martial arts movies. Keep those wires clipped! Jet is a lot more fun to watch here than he was in The One, with it's overdone special effects and piss poor ending. KOTD keeps things raw and intense and Jet benefits from this much rougher style. Combined with a deep throaty soundtrack and sharp visual styling, Kiss of the Dragon delivers some of the most solid hard ass fighting in recent months.
Even the plot is a cut or two above Jet Li's usual mishmash of poorly thought out scripts and even more poorly thought out edits. While I wouldn't exactly describe it as deeply intriguing, KOTD maintains at least a minimal level of depth to keep it from devolving into just another brainless action slugfest. Bridget Fonda (chatty hooker) serves well here, easily getting us involved on a deeper level not only with her character, but Jet Li's silent hero by association.
While Jet's total lack of screen presence consistently weighs his films down, someone in his camp has figured out a good workaround. KOTD is a solid script with some smart directing that delivers no-brainer action along with some welcome realism. It's about time the French got theirs.
• Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
• Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen, Dolby
• Commentary by Chris Nahon, Jet Li and Bridget Fonda
• Theatrical trailer(s)
• 4 Featurettes
• 2 Storyboards Analysis
• Still Galleries
• Widescreen anamorphic format
Reviewed By: Joshua Tyler