The Story: Jet Li plays a Chinese agent, Liu Juan, sent to Paris to aid in the apprehension of a Chinese drug lord. However, complications arise for Lui when the head of the investigation, Inspector Richard (Tcheky Kayro- La Femme Nikita, The Patriot ), turns out to be severely corrupt, dabbling in drugs, prostitutes, and commits a gangland hit on the Chinese drug lord , pinning it on Liu, and forcing Liu to go on the run in an unfamiliar city controlled by Inspector Richard and his goons. Basically alone, with only his wits and martial skill to protect him, Liu undergoes a series of setbacks, including losing his evidence against the psychotic inspector. In the end, only a hooker (Bridget Fonda- Jackie Brown, Single White Female), who is strung out and blackmailed into being a prostitute for Inspector Richard, may be Liu's only ally. But, Liu faces impossible odds, an army of police against him, and if you haven seen an action movie, you may actually think he wont win in the end. When Liu tracks Inspector Richard down and walks into the police precinct Terminator style, you can bet mighty amounts of vengeance will be dished out.
The Film: Kiss of the Dragon is by no means a great Jet Li film, but it is a worthwhile one. Overall it is a pretty clumsy and childishly simple story with some over the top, worn out clichés like the psycho/corrupt cop, the man on the run, and the hooker with a heart of gold. I feel especially bad for Tcheky Kayro and Bridget Fonda slumming it up with their hammy roles. At least Jet gets to be fairly silent, stoic, and deadly. Here, even some of the action is recycled, a laundry chute escape sequence is an obviously different take on the one Luc Besson did in La Femme Nikita, but, some of it works, for instance, the gymnasium fight is a more entertaining tribute to Bruce Lee's Chinese Connection... But, despite the stupidity of the story and lacking characterizations, it is an interesting Jet Li film for two reasons: so far it is one of the better Americanized era of Jet Li films, and it is one of the more graphically violent Jet Li films. While Once Upon a Time in China and other HK era Jet Li films did have their gruesome bits, all the exploding in half bad guys, glass in the hand, neck breaking, chopsticks to the throat, and fatally hemorrhaging villains in Kiss of the Dragon make it really stand out. And, the finale, with the aforementioned gym fight and a fight with two big, blond thugs is quite good. Despite only taking up about 3 mins of the films running time, the movie is almost worth it just for those two fights. That just goes to show the charisma of Jet Li, when it comes time for a fight, you briefly forget the god awful story, the clumsy English, and bristle with anticipation over how he's going to kick some serious booty.
Heres the part where I lay the blame. While Jet had a heavy hand in the production, more so here than in Romeo Must Die, he can't be faulted for the worthless script and the ill editing of poorly directed scenes. No, the overall production was headed by Luc (La Femme Nikita, The Professional, The Fifth Element) Besson, and he is the man who chose the novice director, approved/co-wrote the script (which just basically repeats psycho detective character he wrote in The Professional), and should be red faced with shame that he didn't flesh out the plot and characters more. Likewise, although Jet made sure he had his longtime fight scene collaborator Corey Yuen Kwai brought to supervise all the fights, director Chris Nahon botches the fight scenes by badly framing them and editing them in such a way that the impact and Jets skill is lessened. While the fights are fairly straightforward, ground, hand-to-hand combat, with very slight wirework added to enhance certain parts but by no means glaringly outlandish, most of are just too brief, improperly angled, and rapidly edited to the point that they are forgettable beyond the brutal- "Oh my god he just burned that guys face with an iron"- parts. When I saw Kiss of the Dragon in the theater, it didn't take any brilliant observational skills to figure out Nahon was from the commercial/video world of film making, because he frames all the actors like they are products, giving the film very little depth, making everything really flat. In better hands, with some detailing (and a quick firing of whoever came up with the pet turtle bit), the film wouldn't have suffered as much, and Jet just barely manages to rise above it all and make the film an entertaining enough distraction.
For me, there is little doubt that Jet Li's best films were made in his HK days (Fist of Legend, Tai Chi Master, Fong Sai Yuk, Once Upon A Time in China) with that relentless energy that Hong Kong action seems capable of, yet no one else, be they European or American, can capture. Funny thing is, I consider myself a true Jet Li fan. That is, (without an ounce of geeky pretentiousness), I was watching him in the early-mid 90's on cruddy little import/bootleg videos, and I fell in love with the guy despite having subtitles I couldn't read, and copies that, if I was lucky, were probably 4th-5th generation vhs. Anyone who can put up with that should consider themselves a true fan. And, for many of the long time Jet fans, his career hit its peak and began dropping off in 1995, when he started making modern edged flops like Dr Wai, Hitman, and Black Mask. I had given up on him years before his rise as a notable US box office star, so its been rather amusing to watch his gaining fame. And, you know what?... Even though for the better part of 6 years I've thought his best days were behind him, I'm glad for the guy, because he's a decent, talented, workhorse, who deserves the cash and clout. Even though I think his talent was better under the HK light, I don't want him to return and make Once Upon a Time in China 7, or Fong Sai Yuk 3. I say, make your $money$ with your modern, Americanized action, and maybe a few of them will be, at the very least, halfway decent like Kiss of the Dragon.
Also, it should be noted that the one-and-only "Kato" plays Liu's safehouse proprietor, which was shocking, because I had thought Kato died years ago.
The DVD:CBS/Fox Home Video Does a nice job, adding quite a few action featurettes, commentary, and general production material with very adequate sound and image.
Picture-Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1. I thought Kiss of the Dragon looked horrible when I saw it in the theater. As I mentioned before, flat, like it was more a tv image than a film image, and not surprisingly, it looks much better scaled down to my television instead of on a 20+ foot theater screen. The cinematography is very dark, heavy contrast, bleak colors, and it is a good balance for the mood of the film that the transfer captures and presents very well. It was a quick production, so there are no sweeping Kurosawaesque compositions, but for an action film in the post MTV age it looks pretty darn good.
Sound-English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), optional English subtitles. The sound has all the appropriate thwacks, bone snaps, and gun pops, the score is a little generic, but overall it is a nice little action film soundtrack.
Extras- 24 Chapters--- Theatrical trailer(s)--- 6 tv spots--- 4 very nice Featurettes: a neat 10+ min Jet Li "Fighting Philosophy" featurette, A Corey Yuen Kwai "Fighting Philosophy" featurette (once again about 10 mins), On the Set Action featurette (basically a hodgepodge of behind the scenes stuff with techno music over it), and a general, back patting but informative, studio produced Production featurette--- Storyboard to Film Comparisons for the 'Laundry Chute' and 'Orphanage' action sequences--- Action and Production Stills Gallery--- Police Gymnasium Fight demo(s)--- Trailers for Behind Enemy Lines and Planet of the Apes--- And finally, Commentary by Chris Nahon, Jet Li and Bridget Fonda. All three are on the same commentary track, but recorded their parts separately, so there is not give and take discussion. While it is nice to hear Jet Li talk, English is his second language, so at times it is a bit of a strain to make out what he is saying, although, to his credit, he doesn't have the "Uhhhs" and "ohhhh" gaps you'll find on a Jackie Chan commentary. Likewise, director Chris Nahon is French, so English is his second language too, and that just doubles the language barrier problem. So, it is not really any big surprise that the one person who is fluent in English, Bridget Fonda dominates the commentary, adding the most comments, and at quite a few points in the track, Jet and Nahon a disappear for several minutes. Bridget brings the most anecdotes, talk about acting, and general funny behind the scene stories. And, while when one is watching an action movie, stories about "the actors craft" can become a little tiresome, she is very easygoing, obviously loving these kind of films, and she gleefully comments on how much she enjoys the violence and Jet Li as an action star and collaborator. Chris Nahon mentions some general production bits, filming problems and such, and Jet seems to cover most everything, fight scenes, how the film came together, performing with the other actors and such. It is a fair commentary, worth a listen, especially for Jet Li fans, but without the conversational edge of multiple people in the same room and with two out of three commentators having difficulty with English, it just isn't highly re-listenable.
***Overal, I say check it out- a mediocre movie, good DVD, and you can do a whole lot worse, but certainly check out Once upon a Time in China 1&2 and Fist of Legend for the very best of Jet Li..***