I've always been a fan of Jet Li films. His ability to perform martial arts on the fly always seems to amaze me. His action scenes tend to involve a lot of strength and endurance on his part, similar to actor Jackie Chan. That's what makes Jet Li films as entertaining as they are, simply because you know Li is usually putting his body on the line to entertain us. One such characteristic that tends to follow Mr. Li is that a majority of his films tend to under-perform at both the box office and with critics. Such was the case with his 2001 affair Kiss of the Dragon, which only earned a 49% critic approval rating and only made $64 Million worldwide.
In the film, Jet Li plays a Chinese agent named Liu Jian who is sent to good ol' Paris, France. His goal is to capture a wanted Chinese criminal. Unfortunately for Mr. Jian, he is soon framed for a murder he didn't commit by a corrupt Police figure. It turns out that this group will expand all of their resources in hopes of keeping Mr. Jian from releasing any information he knows. Naturally, as per any Jet Li film, nothing will keep him from shining and looking his best.
As we learn, the Kiss of the Dragon refers to a needle that enters the bloodstream, rushes to the head and, well, eliminates the body. Soon Liu Jian must do whatever it takes to stop Jean-Pierre Richard (Tcheky Karyo), a crooked cop, from distributing this drug and more drugs around France. He enlists the help of Jessica (Bridget Fonda), a farm girl fron North Dakota, who Richard hooked on drugs and enslaved as a prostitute.
The film's depth is not deep by any standard, but it doesn't necessarily need to be. Director Chris Nahon fleshes out the basic premise and then has Liu Jian kick some serious ass all while maintaining that bad-ass, don't mess with me persona. While not all of Li's stunts were done without the use of wirework, I highly enjoyed every stunt he did pull of. But action wasn't all that the film was about. As per recent Jet Li films, he has tried his hand at involving himself in those romantic moments, some of which he builds here with Jessica. Not the best (nowhere near his involvement with Victoria in 2005's Unleashed, which felt real), but Fonda and Li pull off a good enough chemistry, keeping the viewer involved in their life to care about what occurs.
The slight problem in the film, which Li can't be faulted for despite having a larger role in the production area, is that main producer Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) chose a newer director in Chris Nahon. By no means does Nahon do a horrible job, it just felt that some of the sequences were dry dialogue wise. But in a film like this, dialogue doesn't have to be the award-winning, just as long as the action scenes work. After all, that's what puts our butts in the seat. Kiss of the Dragon isn't Li's best work to date, but is better than Lethal Weapon 4. Critics/Audiences skipped this film, which was a real shame as it contained a good enough story and some amazing action sequences (especially the hand grenade sequence). If you haven't caught this film, give it a rental as I'm sure you find it enjoyable enough for a Saturday night movie affair.
Arriving in a 1080p, AVC/MPEG-4 Encoded, 2:35:1 Widescreen Aspect Ratio, Kiss of the Dragon, unfortunately I might add, marks the first real disappointing Fox Blu-Ray title.
The problem I had here is that so much of the transfer felt like a SD-DVD transfer. Detail is horrendous with so many areas requiring the viewer to either squint or simply not try to see what's going on. The lighting effects were soft and dark (as are the locales), never giving the viewer any assistance what so ever. Resolution is also another problem here, as Kiss of the Dragon never has that HD type transfer that we expect. This was extremely odd too because the first 10-15 minutes actually looked pretty damn good.
Color usage was severely affected by the aforementioned lighting issues. Colors were never bright, clear or easy to consistently make out. A majority of the sequences were gloomy and drab looking, possibly which was done on purpose. This was quite the odd choice Fox decided on as part of their initial wave of titles, as Kiss of the Dragon never fully looks impressive.
As per Fox's other initial release titles, Kiss of the Dragon comes equipped with a English a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio Track. Despite how appealing this track sounds, no player at this time, besides the Playstation 3, comes equipped with the ability to decode this audio. Once I get my hand on a system, I'll be sure to update this review with my thoughts. Despite this, Fox has given us a good enough Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 1.5mbps.
Well at least the audio of Kiss of the Dragon was good, but far from demo material. Sound effects were fine but seemed to always need that extra 'oomph'. Even though I highly enjoyed the visual style of the grenade sequence on the rooftop, I found it lacked something. It felt as if some of the sound effects were never completed. Dialogue is ok, sometimes becoming muddled requiring the viewer to reach for that remote which is always a pain. The film's score by Craig Armstrong also felt a bit out of place not really connecting to the feel and look of the film.
Kiss of the Dragon sounds good enough, but still lacked that overall package that the previous Fox titles have all contained. This one is certainly the odd man out of all the initial Fox titles.
- Audio Commentary with Director Chris Nahon, Actors Jet Li and Bridget Fonda: What was annoying here is that all three participants recorded all their portions separately resulting in some portions being repeated. While English isn't Li's second language, his comments were interesting and informative as he spoke about the various stunts. The same goes with Director Chris Nahon. With English also not being his second language, he tended to pause a lot trying to think of what to say. Still, when he did talk, I found his thoughts on the production and filming interesting enough. Bridget Fonda was the best out of the three as she spoke the most covering the topics of acting and behind the scenes tidbits. Worth a listen once through, but not more than that.
- Trailer: Here we get the trailers for a few Fox titles in Kiss of the Dragon, Speed, Phone Booth, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Transporter, and Behind Enemy Lines. All are presented in 1080p.
I recently read that Jet Li's most recent affair, entitled Fearless, is rumored to be his film work, which will definitely be an unfortunate matter. Kiss of the Dragon was a solid film that was very underrated, similar to Unleashed. The rather unfortunate part here is that the transfer Fox used was lacking that HD quality, while the audio was passable for an action film. Similar to their other initial wave of titles, Fox has only included a commentary track here, severely hurting this overall package. With the price being rather high, even fans of Li won't get enough out of this package (despite the film being good) to warrant a purchase. Stick with a rental.