Kiss Of The Dragon

Jet Li, while only having done a few roles since relocating to the USA, is taking action movies to a higher level. His stint as the bad guy in Lethal Weapon 4 and the commercial success of Romeo Must Die, have allowed him to extend his choices further than before. Kiss Of The Dragon feels very much like a Luc Besson film, very dark, brooding and with more than its share of brutal violence (Leon, Nikita and Subway for example). In actual fact Luc Besson is just the writer, handing the directing reins over to Chris Nahon who basically follows the how-to-direct-like-Luc-Besson handbook, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Unfortunately the plot is very formulaic in its approach, but most martial arts films tend to be. Li plays Liu Jian, a highly decorated police officer and master in martial arts (what else!), who has been sent to Paris to assist a special Police Task Force. The Task Force is intent on cracking a French-Chinese drug smuggling ring and is led by the psychotic Jean Pierre Richard, played to form by Tchéky Karyo. Unfortunately for Jian, Richard turns out to be the enemy, which was very obvious from the beginning (his opening scene is of him beating a man to a bloody pulp). Added to this Richard has framed Jian for the murder of the Chinese contact the Task Force was supposed to be observing. On the run and hiding in the red light district Jian teams up with an unwilling prostitute Jessica, who coincidently was involved although unwittingly in the frame up. As it transpires Jessica is more or less being forced into prostitution by Richard through hooking her onto drugs and keeping her daughter in 'a safe place'.

Jian must now navigate his way through a city he doesn't know, put his trust into the hands of a woman he hardly knows and absolve himself from the murder. As mentioned earlier, the plot is very simplistic but has many gapping holes in it, such as why hardly anyone in Paris speaks French and why do the Chinese police have a safe house in Paris (incidentally run by the great Burt Kwok, he of Pink Panther's Kato fame). Li's acting is impressive enough, going from a cool, calculating man doing his job to a confused and untrusting man wondering if his job is really work doing at all. Karyo, likewise, is very good, as his is a role that suits him down to the ground, a psychotic and malicious bad guy. In all honesty he could have played the part of the corrupt Richard in his sleep. Bridget Fonda shows us little of her potential acting ability as Jessica, which is a shame. Fonda has the ability to do great work, but this is not one she will be remembered for, not because she is bad, just the role isn’t a memorable one.

A special mention must go to the action, it is excellent. Very high octane, without being a big budget Hollywood explosion fiasco. Li’s martial arts abilities were never in doubt as his skill has shone from his Hong Kong movies days, with films such as Once Upon A Time In China. Here he manages to use almost everything as a weapon, from steam irons to tumble dryers. There is one very obvious showcase set piece, which doesn’t fit smoothly into the story, but seems like an excuse to show Li kicking some arse. It occurs when he accidentally walks into a room full of about two dozen martial arts students and promptly takes them all on. Even then it is impressive to watch.

The final point before summing up is that it is a very violent film. Li himself has been very vocal in pointing out that this is not a sanitised action movie, and therefore is not suitable for children. His character carries around a set of acupuncture needles with him and is not afraid to use them in the most violent fashion. He doesn’t stun or knock people out, he kills them, very violently and very vividly.

Kiss Of The Dragon will not appeal to everyone, but is an enjoyable pseudo-Besson experience. It sets out to be an action film and nothing more, at which it succeeds very well. Unfortunately for Jet Li, he doesn't quite have the leading man persona of someone such as Jackie Chan or the late great Bruce Lee, but does have a lot of potential as an actor. This movie will keep his fans happy until the parallel-dimension hopping thriller, The One arrives later this year.

 SCORE 7/10