(kr) wrote: Looking for the quintessential mindless action blockbuster? Look no further, for Kiss of the Dragon is the thriller which will satisfy your appetite for thrills. Kiss of the Dragon is basically the whole enchilada: it is a film loaded with action, martial arts, violence, suspense, and cliffhangers, all of which are held together by (an admittedly) shaky plot. But hey, most of us are not really that interested in the plot, right? We just want action; and with Jet Li at your service, you know you will be in for a treat.Speaking of Jet Li, this guy is undeniably a martial arts prodigy. A practitioner of wushu martial arts (ever since he was eight years old), Li is known for his lightning quick speed and moves which appear faster than the blink of an eye. Basically, with his amazing grace, Li knows how to kick arse with style. Jackie Chan and Brandon Lee notwithstanding, I have to say that Jet Li is the heir of Bruce Lee.Jet Li appeared in over 25 films in Hong Kong prior to his arrival in America. His American film debut was Lethal Weapon 4 and quite frankly, he was the main bright spot in a tiring franchise. Two years later, Li would star alongside the late singer Aaliyah as two star-crossed lovers in the highly disappointing Romeo Must Die. With Kiss of the Dragon, Jet Li finally has the opportunity to step out of the shadows of other martial arts legends and become a recognizable action star in his own right.In a couple of words, the plot of Kiss of the Dragon is pretty simplistic and bare minimum, but here goes. Jet Li stars as Liu Jian, (a.k.a. "Johnny") an unmarried top cop from Beijing who is only dedicated to his work. Liu also has a knack for acupuncture. Depending on where he positions the acupuncture needles, they can either improve your health...or perhaps devastate it. Liu has been assigned to Paris to assist the French police in cracking one of the biggest drug connections ever. Things really get out of hand when the man in charge, Jean-Pierre Richard (Tchky Karyo) decides to go berserk and kill an important Chinese official who may or may not be part of the drug connection.To makes things even more problematic, Richard frames Li for the murder. Now everyone in Paris practically wants him dead...A prostitute -- who was hiding in the bathroom while the execution took place -- is the only witness who can clear Liu's name. Jessica (Bridget Fonda) is the said drug-addicted prostitute and young woman from North Dakota. However, she may not be so cooperative with Liu because you see, the bad guys are one step ahead: they are holding Jessica's daughter hostage. If Jessica makes one stupid move, her daughter will suffer heinous consequences. Liu and Jessica will have to learn to trust each other in order to survive the ordeal...I would not worry so much about the film's plot. In short, Kiss of the Dragon is your typical conspiracy thriller full of surprises; some expected, others not so expected.So what is the main attraction of Kiss of the Dragon? If you guessed "action", then you are one step ahead of me! Anyway, what makes the action scenes tick in Kiss of the Dragon is (surprise), the brutal realism. The action scenes are a lot more believable and down-to-earth. For those of you who were grousing about how unrealistic the flying moves in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were, do not fret; the believability of the fight scenes -- you can practically feel the effects of each blow -- in Kiss of the Dragon is what makes them work. If you like your violence hardboiled with verisimilitude, then Kiss of the Dragon is perfect for you.Personally, I was surprised by the amount of graphic violence in this movie. I am talking about a film where some of the violence includes a vicious close-up of a stabbing, a (hilarious) scene where a guy is blown in half by a grenade, and some ferocious and grueling beatings that will make you want to avert your eyes. Maybe there is too much emphasis on hardcore martial arts violence. The graphic martial arts violence in this movie reminds me of what I witnessed in the Street Fighter movies starring Sonny Chiba (though those movies were much more over the top).Who needs special effects when you have Jet Li? This guy moves like a whirlwind of pulsating energy and I am finally pleased to see that the filmmakers behind Kiss of the Dragon have learned how to fully utilize his talents. One example of Li's gifted athleticism is when two French cops at a station try to stop him. In a matter of maybe a second, he subdues those cops by meticulously placing acupuncture needles on them. Another such highlight is when Li kicks a billiard ball from a pool table and the said ball quickly nails its target.The choreography and fight scenes overall are very good and even ingenious at times. Although gratuitous editing sometimes distracted from the aesthetic quality of the fight scenes, I think that director Chris Nahon has made the right move by allowing Li to run the show and display most of his considerable martial arts talents. Speaking of action, there are around half a dozen (give or take a few) action sequences in this movie. Two of my favorites include the scene where the high kicking hero confronts several police officers at a dojo center and the other is the grueling match between him and two expert French martial artists who love to intimidate their opponents. The first such example is amusing as we see dozens of uniformed martial arts enthusiasts (with nightsticks!) trying to beat the hero. The choreography is very polished with great fighting moves and even some painful comedy thrown in. The confrontation between him and two tall French martial arts experts is fun to watch with lots of glass being broken amidst the fighting.Overall, Kiss of the Dragon is rough-and-tough, hardcore violence at its finest thanks to some impressive, but also credible, fight scenes which instead of feeling "tacked-on", actually flow with the rest of the story. Corey Yuen, a well-known director from Hong Kong, handles the choreographing chores here, and he handles them well.The performances were actually decent for a film of this caliber. Some critics may accuse Jet Li of being a little bland, but personally, I think that he has a cool, modest appeal. He does not try to impress people with one-liners; he basically represents the strong, silent hero. Unlike most wisecracking heroes of today, Jet Li lets his fists and feet do most of the talking. Also, unlike the strong, silent hero, Li's character actually makes mistakes, and he gets hurt. There is a certain human quality to this hero which makes him appealing. Ladies will adore him; guys will admire him.Most of the characters are unfortunately stereotypes. Bridget Fonda, as Jessica, is your average prostitute with a conscience who of course is doing her job because the baddies have kidnapped her daughter. Meanwhile, Tchky Karyo is your average psycho cop who is basically pure, dynamic evil. In spite of the stereotypical characters, the performances themselves were fairly solid, exceeding our expectations of stereotypes. Tchky Karyo is appropriately malicious as a Machiavellian slime-ball -- he would even go so far as to kill his own men -- who only wants to get the job done. Think of him as cross between the appearance of David Warner and the personality of Wings Hauser.Bridget Fonda, an underrated actress, does a competent job registering emotion as Jessica. She truly captures the look and personality of a degenerate person who tries to string her life back together but is having trouble doing so. Fonda brings an air of credibility to her role as Jessica; in one such scene when she talks about how her life is not a fairy tale, but a living Hell, I felt sympathy for her.Kiss of the Dragon no doubt has some considerable weaknesses. Alas, too many clichs spoil what would otherwise have been an even better thriller. The clichs are most evident with such examples as the tired conspiracy, the hero-on-the-run, the hapless prostitute, the corrupt cop, and the child-in-distress. The script (incidentally by well-known French auteur Luc Besson based on a story by Li himself) has some major plot holes and underdeveloped plot ideas. One such questionable scene took place in the beginning when Liu is to meet with the French inspector, but also witnesses a bunch of guys beating up on an Asian guy as if he was a weak piata. What's up with that? Also, there is one scene in the middle where we see a bloodied head on a restaurant table. The point? An example of an underdeveloped plot idea is the relationship between the main villain and the prostitute. But I guess I am asking for too much.I also really hated the ending. Although it was a fitting finale, it just did not seem appropriate for a martial arts movie. Without giving it away, the ending looked like it belonged in some horror film...Forget Tomb Raider and disregard Swordfish, Kiss of the Dragon is a true contender. Kiss of the Dragon is one of Jet Li's better films overall. I would not say that this is one of Jet Li's greatest accomplishments -- he has made all of his best films in Hong Kong including Fist of Legend, Once Upon a Time in China and The Tai-Chi Master -- but this is a fine piece of work. All this film cares about is delivering heart-pounding, in-your-face action. While martial arts purists may complain about the over-use of editing in this movie, most action buffs will enjoy the total carnage inflicted in this film. I would not recommend Kiss of the Dragon to kids though, for the violence in this movie is way too extreme.I liked this film for what it is. If you are willing to tolerate some literally bone-crunching ultra-violence, then you will find some reasonable entertainment here. Newcomer Chris Nahon manages to deftly coalesce the harsh, gritty violence of La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional with the ballistic fighting of Hong Kong martial arts films. If you are indeed a fan of Luc Besson's work, then you will certainly enjoy Kiss of the Dragon. And Jet Li here makes amends for Romeo Must Die. For now, Li is definitely moving in the right direction as a legitimate action star in Western cinema.