Kiss of the Dragon (2001) / Action-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality, and drug content
Running Time: 98 min.

Cast: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo, Laurence Ashley, Burt Kwouk, Cyril Raffaelli
Chris Nahon
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Review published June 28, 2001

I have mixed feelings about the Hong Kong stars that leave to make bigger budget films once they have make a name for themselves.  Perhaps the producers and directors of the American/European films just don't get Hong Kong action, and perhaps Hong Kong directors don't get American and European screenplays.  Considering the track record so far for Jet Li since making the trip (Lethal Weapon 4 and Romeo Must Die), I didn't actually expect movie greatness with Kiss of the Dragon.  However, given the fact that Jet had more influence on this film's production, even writing the story, I certainly did not expect what might be the worst film in his career.

Jet plays a Chinese undercover cop named Liu Jian, who while an on assignment in France, is framed for the murder of a certain bigwig by a French law enforcement honcho, Inspector Richard (Karyo, The Patriot).  Now Liu is on the run, and Richard leaves a river of blood in hs wake in his search for the one man that can bring him down, due to a piece of videotape Liu obtained during the assassination. 

Kiss of the Dragon has a couple of moments of interest, both involving some acrobatic fighting between Li and some of the more skillful henchmen, but those moments were not necessarily good as much as they were the only moments that were not complete garbage.  The plot is a boring mix of Hitchcockian "innocent-man-accused" and derivative action schlock, probably more appropriate for straight-to-video crapola than in a major film release like this.  The key to making a decent film when the plot is dull is to bolster it with good humor (a la Rush Hour) or some unbelievable action pieces (a la Who am I?).  While Kiss of the Dragon does make some attempts at both, it shows no results for the effort. 

The makers of Kiss of the Dragon also try to cover over the fact that it has poor plotting and bad directing through sheer noise, as if riddling every scene with gunfire and explosions might distract viewers sufficiently from having to actually think of how bad the film is.  Karyo yells with almost every scene with over-the-top styling, while his band of thugs do little else but fire an endless barrage of bullets at Jet Li without ever striking the mark.  Furthermore, the motivations of the characters and small attempts at symbolic touches give the film a very bizarre feel, as if trying to give ersatz meaning to the meaningless.

I strongly would advise against seeing Kiss of the Dragon, even if you are a staunch Jet Li fan.  It falls so far short of the mark, one can only wonder why an effort was made at all.  This is paint-by-numbers action fare that was made by people so inept, they used the wrong end of the paintbrush.  So brutal, sickening, and downright weird, the only Jet I want to see after this is the one Mr. Li is on when headed back to Hong Kong to make better movies.

Qwipster's rating:

2001 Vince Leo