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Kiss of the Dragon

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Kiss of the Dragon

Starring: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda
Director: Crhis Nahon
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: July 2001
Genres: Action, Martial Arts

*Also starring: Tcheky Karyo, Burt Kwouk, Laurence Ashley, Max Ryan

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

In one of the opening scenes of this martial arts action drama, a Parisian makes the patronizing point to Jet Li--who had just arrived from Beijing--that French history doesn't amount to a hill of beans compared to the chronicles of China. You may or may not believe this but as you watch Jet Li in action in the role of China's top government police agent, Liu Jian, you might easily go along with the notion that this guy of medium height and build could be the finished product of China's long and often glorious record. Liu Jian works awfully hard to make his presence felt knocking out lights in the City of Lights and while he's China leading maestro of martial arts, he's also skilled in the science of magic. When he's not literally kicking up a storm, he's doing some awfully strange things with his acupuncture needles, which in the picture serve as double-edged swords for both their curative powers and their capacity to inflict suffering on the enemy. The ultimate magic of these needles is their ability to deliver the kiss of the dragon, which makes its ironic, less-than- amorous appearance at the very end of the film.

The story--such as it is--opens at the customs booth at Orly International Airport as an sinister-looking passport inspector asks Liu his purpose in visiting France. When Liu answers simply "pleasure" (because he's no way in the same class as James Bond, who'd say, "Pleasure: is there any other?"), we can believe that what the typical foreign tourist considers fun is not breaking up a sinister gang of murderous criminals led by French police Inspector Richard (Tcheky Karyo). Liu has been sent by his government in Beijing to assist the French police in protecting a member of his nationality, but when that official tells the two hookers who have been assigned to make his visit pleasant, "send me to heaven," he did not have in mind the same type of travel that Richard had planned for him. When the police inspector turns out to be somewhat worse than Javert--a downright killer, super-pimp and more--Liu is in for the adventure of his life: at least until his next movie opens in a year or so.

The "Kiss of the Dragon" is a violent tale involving Uzis, flamethrowers, grenades, and of course the supernatural limbs of its hero as well as his trusty needles. "Kiss" involves Bridget Fonda as well in the role of Jessica, a North Dakotan who when asked how she wound up as a Paris streetwalker, explains to Liu that some guy she was with spoke a beautiful French to her and, well, that explains everything. The movie suffers from a plot that is more difficult to understand than the intrigue of Alain Resnais' "Last Year at Marienbad," but no one in the audience except for some elitist critics expects much of a storyline: we're here for the action. Do we get it? Not really. We're not sure that Liu can easily knock out an army of twenty black belts whom he meets in a building and who happily take him on, but Liu has the benefit of one good friend to help him: Marco Cave, who is the most powerful man in the movie. Who's he? The editor, of course, whose assistance enables Liu not only to polish off an army of guys in karate outfits, a pair of gigantic blond twins (Cyril Raffaelli and Diddier Azoulay), to dodge an avenging hand grenade and a threatening firestorm, and to outrace 157 bullets directed at him from a variety of marksmen.

Not even Bridget Fonda comes off looking good in this generic actioner, and director Chris Nahon must be quite an accomplished director to realize a feat like that. What's more we're hard put to believe that the great Luc Besson, who gave us the thrilling "La Femme Nikita" (which evolved in the American "Point of No Return" starring Bridget Fonda in a far better role) and "The Professional," which laid out the story of a hit man (Jean Reno) made into a gentle dude while taking care of a young orphaned girl. But Jet Li does his best in a film that gives him not a single line of humorous or witty dialogue and, even harder to believe, not even arch-villain Richard--who at one point threatens only half-heartedly to put Jessica's five-year-old daughter to work in a Parisian Red Light district--gets to say a single sentence to evoke an audience sneer.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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