KISS OF THE DRAGON
Reviewed February 11th, 2002 by David Nusair
Finally, an action movie with some teeth.
Jet Li (Romeo Must Die, Lethal Weapon 4) stars as Liu Jiuan, a Chinese government agent sent to Paris. He's there to help out Richard (Tcheky Karyo), a French police officer out to nab an asian gangster in a sting operation. The sting operation goes horribly wrong, with many people dead, and Richard pins the blame on Jiuan. As the requisite confused sidekick (this kind of movie always has either a confused sidekick or a wacky sidekick), Bridget Fonda shows up as a prostitute under Richard's thumb (he's kidnapped her daughter and forced her into the world's oldest profession) who just happened to witness the sting operation gone bad. Now, this unlikely duo must work together to clear his name and retrieve her daughter.
Kiss of the Dragon was directed by newcomer Chris Nahon, but producer and co-writer Luc Besson's fingerprints are all over it. Besson's signature style is intact, complete with exotic foreign locations and kinetic (and very violent) action sequences. Karyo's ultra-evil cop could essentially be seen as a carbon-copy of Gary Oldman's character in Besson's The Professional - except with a French accent. But where Nahon fails (and Besson likely would have succeeded) is in the expository scenes. When people aren't fighting or shooting at each other, the pace of the film comes to a dead halt. There's a lengthy stretch involving Fonda and Li getting to know one another - a section of the film that goes on far too long and could have easily been trimmed. When you start off a film with such eye-popping action, it's generally not a good idea to dwell on character development and plot. This isn't exactly The Dirty Dozen (a film whose action sequences were perfectly complemented by scenes of male bonding).
Li has smartly decided to eschew the all-too-fashionable use of wires for the fight scenes in favor of old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat. Far too many films rely on wires (even Li's Romeo Must Die was excessively wire heavy), so what a relief it was to discover that some action flicks are still willing to ground its characters and have them beat the holy crap out of each other. And make no mistake about it, it's the action sequences that make Kiss of the Dragon worth seeing. The first 20 minutes alone are worth the price of a rental. Throughout the film, Li dispatches various bad guys through increasingly inventive methods - he attacks two hired goons with hot irons, he kicks a pool ball at a villain's head, he fights a roomful of cops armed with kung fu-type sticks - to name a few. And unlike a Jackie Chan movie, his opponents really get hurt. This is not a movie for the squeamish.
Kiss of the Dragon provides enough thrills and rousing action sequences to more than warrant a recommendation. And after a year filled with lame action/adventures - Tomb Raider and The Mummy Returns to name the most prominent - Kiss of the Dragon emerges victorious.
Audio: This is an amazing track. This DD 5.1 soundtrack is definitely something to invite your friends over for. Just check out the opening sequence, with the various gun fights and chop-socky action. Your rear speakers will have their work cut out for them. This is also an effective track during the quieter moments, with dialogue always crisp and clear.
Video: This 2.35:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer is equally impressive. Sleek and shiny, there’s nary a film or DVD artifact to be found. Flawless.
Extras: First up is a commentary track featuring director Chris Nahon, Jet Li, and Bridgette Fonda – though they were recorded separately. This is an informative track, though it is sometimes difficult to understand Li and Nahon (both have extremely heavy accents). Other than that, though, this track provides a lot of info about everything you could possible want to know about – from location shooting to stuntwork, etc.
Next up is a series of featurettes, starting with “Jet Li – Fighting Philosophy.” Running just over 10 minutes, this details Li’s beginnings in martial arts and his introduction to the silver screen. This is mostly Li talking, with the occasional remark from someone else (Fonda, etc.) – while pictures of Li as a younger man are displayed. This is an interesting peek into Li’s background I wasn’t previously aware of. Next up is something called “Cory Yuen – Action Academy,” a far less interesting doc. Yuen is the stunt coordinator for the film and here we learn about his background and his approach in putting together the various fight scenes. Not caring about Yuen, I found this to be tedious, though there are some effective bits of info thrown out regarding the fight sequences.
Next is two separate looks at the planning that went into the police station fight scene. We get to watch as Yuen practices the fight with two stuntmen and are then given the option to watch the final sequence. This is quite interesting, as Yuen must go through the motions many times (slowly) to get it just right. There’s also an easter egg on this page – click right and you’ll be taken to an overseas trailer for the film.
Next up is “On the Set Action,” which is various behind-the-scenes clips mixed with the final product. We get to see how the majority of the action sequences were set up, which makes this efficient little doc quite interesting.
Next up are two storyboard-to-film comparisons for “The Laundry Chute” and “The Orphanage.” You have three options: Just the storyboards, the storyboards and the film, or just the film. Storyboard enthusiasts will get a kick out of this; everyone else will likely find it tedious.
Next up is a completely useless four-minute “featurette,” though all it features is a series of clips from the movie and soundbites from the actors and director. There’s nothing new to be learned here – skip it.
Rounding out the disc are a series of still photographs of press material and behind-the-scenes material, six TV spots, a trailer, and trailers for Behind Enemy Lines and Planet of the Apes.
Conclusion: If, like me, you dig the hardcore action flicks of the ‘70s and ‘80s, you’d be well advised to check out Kiss of the Dragon.
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