Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

Genre: Crime Drama and Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: July 6th, 2001 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Chris Nahon Actors: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo, Max Ryan, Ric Young, Burt Kwouk, Laurence Ashley, Cyril Raffaelli, Didier Azoulay

 


 

L

iu “Johnny” Jian (Jet Li) arrives in France for the first time, greeted coldly at the airport and cheerily by his cab driver. Although he states that his visit is for pleasure, when he arrives at a tiny shop to unpack his things, he cuts out a gun that was carefully concealed in his bag. It’s evident that Jian is a man on a mission.

He soon proceeds to a hotel, where he’s instructed to visit the men’s room, in which he’s searched for weaponry by a group of oversized brutes. He’s then taken to Inspector Richard (Tcheky Karyo), a vicious man who clearly operates above the law. Johnny is supposed to help the French police keep tabs on an important deal taking place with a Chinese heroin smuggler, though neither party is enthused about working together. The operation turns sour when two prostitutes show up, one an assassin, the other a naive newcomer (Bridget Fonda as Jessica Kamen), prompting Richard to execute virtually all of the participants, with the intention of framing Jian for the murders.

The motives, accomplices, and collateral damage are hardly important. With a screenplay (in part) by Luc Besson, a story by Jet Li himself, and action sequences directed by Cory Yuen, the martial arts combat starts up quickly and rarely desists. It’s heavy-hitting, with plenty of harsh violence, death, and explosions to amplify the impressive stunts. It may be somewhat simplistic, but the basic setup, establishing a foreigner all alone in a strange land, provides the framework for continuous mayhem and adventure.

“Sometimes the best are also the worst.” Karyo seems to be channeling Oldman’s performance from “The Professional,” what with all of his over-the-top order-barking and theatrics. The similarities extend to corrupt officials with seemingly limitless henchmen, the victimization of innocents, and a formidable soldier unable to ignore the wails of a damsel in distress. There’s also the extreme coincidence of Johnny running into Jessica on the streets of Paris, though this is somewhat forgivable, considering that her knowledge of Richard’s involvement is used chiefly to generate additional backstory and sympathy.

“I think you should come to the window.” Amid the flurry of flying fists and carefully choreographed interactions with obstacles and props (almost as if taking a few cues from Jackie Chan’s pictures, but with virtually no comic relief; another scene bears a resemblance to “The Fugitive,” while the finale nods to “Die Hard”), Li adopts a unique trick: an innocuous-looking bracelet of acupuncture needles, which affords him the ability to disable his opponents with swift, subtle, well-placed stabs (“Chinese magic”). Of course, Li’s primary weapons are his lithe limbs, which come in handy against the hordes of villains who keep readily surfacing.

And many of these antagonists have unique qualities, as if to mark each one as a specific hindrance on the path to freedom. Two of the most effective look like brothers (they’re credited as twins), though one is considerably larger than the other (Cyril Raffaelli and Didier Azoulay); but it’s a climactic battle in the police station that really amuses, especially when Jian accidentally stumbles into a gymnasium full of martial arts cadets. Even the excessive use of rap in place of the standard orchestral music isn’t unappealing here, lending a certain flavor to the action that is unexpectedly fitting. There’s a seriousness to the entire picture that makes it not only entertaining, but also sensible, even in the many ways that the story doesn’t add up (such as in the pleasing yet irresolute conclusion, especially concerning an exit strategy, which is completely overlooked); it’s an unusually balanced, satisfying martial arts extravaganza – and one of Li’s greatest American endeavors.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10