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With: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo, Max Ryan
Written by: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Jet Li
Directed by: Chris Nahon
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality and drug content
Running Time: 98
Date: 06/25/2001

Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

1 Star (out of 4)

Smells Like 'Dragon' Breath

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The first thing I look for in a kung-fu movie is memorable fight scenes. That's the basic building block. Jet Li's last American film, Romeo Must Die, staged some pretty spectacular fight scenes that were subsequently butchered by the director, Andrzej Bartkowiak, who shot them as if he were ducking and dodging projectile vomit.

I wish I could say the new Kiss of the Dragon fared better. But not only does it continue the hack-and-slash formula of filmmaking, it fails to stage any interesting fight scenes to film. And to go one further, these lackadaisical scuffles are better than anything else in the film.

Yep, you got it. Kiss of the Dragon is one of the all-out worst films of the year.

Jet Li stars as a Hong Kong bodyguard sent to Paris to protect a Chinese emissary with the "help" of a Paris police inspector (Tcheky Karyo). Karyo instead kills the emissary and tries to pin the crime on Li. Meanwhile, Karyo keeps a young American woman (Bridget Fonda) working as a prostitute by holding her young daughter hostage.

The main reason this doesn't work is that Karyo betrays his position of respectability and power in ridiculous ways, going around screaming and shooting and pulling his hair and beating people up in public. It's not the likely behavior of a man trying to cover up a murder he's committed. He even pushes around the very Chinese dignitaries he's trying to convince. In addition, he uses the Paris police station itself to conduct his dirty business, going so far as to handcuff Fonda to the radiator in his office. He's probably the worst villain I've ever seen in a movie.

Poor Fonda doesn't fare much better. Though she's an extremely charming and charismatic actress, even she can't make this horrible dialogue sound convincing. She mostly whines about her daughter and about how she can't trust anyone anymore. And Li, with his limited English, doesn't have half a chance.

I could go on about the story line's inconsistencies and logical loopholes, but instead I'll talk about the fight scenes, which should have been the bread and butter of a movie like this. In a true Hong Kong film, such as the recently re-released Once Upon a Time in China, choreographers and directors focus on coming up with great fights and photographing them in a clear and exciting way. Like those of Fred Astaire, Jet Li's moves consist not of violence but of dance and poetry. Li is a great artist. By photographing him with shaky, blurry, cameras and cutting every half-second, the poetry is ruined. Kiss of the Dragon, like Romeo Must Die before it, deliberately destroys something beautiful for the sake of Americans' so-called short attention spans.

Even so, these fight scenes are the most pedestrian imaginable. None of these goons is a real match for Li. His most formidable enemies are giant, dumb blonde twins that wouldn't last a minute in a real Hong Kong film. But here, he has to keep bashing at them, ultimately breaking their limbs and necks. Indeed, Kiss of the Dragon seems unnecessarily mean. I can probably justify a man getting blown in half in a laundry chute explosion, but Karyo holding a gun to a 4-year-old child's head is unforgivable in a movie like this.

Luc Besson, who co-produced and co-wrote this garbage, is at best a second- or third-tier director, but even he knows how to put an action scene together, as evidenced by his best film, The Professional (a.k.a. Leon). Yet he did not direct Kiss of the Dragon, opting instead to hand the reins over to inept newcomer Chris Nahon. My only guess is that Besson sensed what an atrocious project he had here and passed along the hot potato before he got his hands burned.

If I had been the director of Kiss of the Dragon, I would have scrapped half its footage as unusable. Yet, here it is, released in theaters in the desperate hope that you'll pay nine bucks to see it. Take my word for it: Don't.

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