Kiss of the Dragon
Directed by Chris Nahon
Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jet Li is back in an "American" movie after two commercial but not critical successes in Lethal Weapon 4 and Romeo Must Die. Unlike Jackie Chan, whose first American films have the same feel as his Hong Kong films, Li has put himself in films with a strong American feel. Until now. Kiss of the Dragon is really a French film with a French director and, most importantly, French screenwriters: Luc Besson (director of brilliant violent French films) and Robert Mark Kamen (writer of brilliant violent French films). The result is an extremely dark and brooding martial arts film with realistic and brutal violence. The hero of this film, Liu Jian, doesn't stun or injure people; he kills people, a lot of people, very graphically.
Liu Jian (Jet Li) is a first rate Chinese police officer, a master in martial arts and acupuncture. He is sent to Paris to help a special French police task force, led by Jean-Pierre Richard (Tchéky Karyo), crack a French-Chinese drug smuggling ring. As the trailer tells you, Richard turns out to be the enemy rather than an ally and Jian is framed for murder. He must navigate a strange city in order to survive, prove his innocence, and save the daughter of Jessica (Bridget Fonda), an unwilling prostitute working for Richard.
The plot may not be the most original, particularly not the part about the prostitute with a heart of gold and a daughter in danger, but it's handled well. What is original to American martial arts films is the emphasis on mood. The film captures Jian's feelings of disorientation and alienation. Paris becomes a very scary place with people, including Jessica, that Jian can not understand but must depend on for survival. The action sequences mostly flow out of the plot and Jian's fight for his life and innocence; although there is a very contrived scene that allows Li to show off his skills with hand weapons against an entire martial arts class. The action sequences are truly impressive and more grounded in reality than recent martial art films. This also makes them grosser. But Jian does not just use martial arts; he can also subdue or kill people with acupuncture. The title of the movie refers to a deadly acupuncture point that kills people in a extremely icky way.
Between fight scenes Li displays strong acting skills. In his Hong Kong films he mostly uses two personae: the cool as ice professional killer and the sweet shy guy who does what he has to do. In Kiss of the Dragon, Li blends both of these aspects into a more complicated character who is calm and cool when doing his job, but who becomes confused as to what his job is and how to handle himself in an alien environment. Karyo has a more clichéd and cartoonish character to play; he is just a bad man. He does it very well though, pulling off such dialogue gems as "That is the problem: sometimes the best is also the worst" when explaining to the Chinese ambassador why Liu Jian would have gone rouge. Karyo is able to take his character's anger and maliciousness to extreme heights without becoming ridiculous.
The film never plunges into kitschy action film humor, but does have some sweet and funny scenes among the darkness and carnage. Overall it is well done and brings together components from French thrillers, American action films, and Hong Kong fighting films into a satisfying whole.
A satisfying but graphically violent whole; really, no kids. The young boys behind me were terrified and cried throughout most of the movie. This is not Rush Hour -- keep the young ones at home.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings