After Jackie Chan made a mild success of his Chinese films in the United States and a major success of his American films, Jet Li is starting to get the idea that there are money and fans to be made in the country. However, after seeing Black Mask, Romeo Must Die and most recently Kiss of the Dragon, it is obvious that he is going about it all wrong.
Li's movies are much more serious than Chan's, and that's all right except for the fact that they try to do too much. It is evident in Kiss of the Dragon, a French production starring Li, Bridget Fonda, and Tcheky Karyo, that director Chris Nahon was trying to attain a certain level of drama, but nobody goes to one of these movies wanting drama. We want action, action, action!
There are several action sequences in Kiss of the Dragon, and while they are pretty entertaining, they are too spread out and too short to really get into the movie. For the rest of the film, we are left with a pretty basic manhunt movie consisting of an overly ruthless villain and a weird little relationship between an American mother-turned-hooker and the Chinese spy that is the hero. For a minute or two Li is punching and kicking his way through hordes of bad guys, and then for the next twenty he is exchanging dialogue with Fonda, who's innocent look and charisma seems out of place in the role that she is playing.
Furthermore, the director is trying too much in his... direction. Slow motion shots are pretty well done but are completely ambiguous, and there are plenty of other artistic snippets that seem out of place. A lot of the camerawork reminds me of Wesley Snipes' The Art of War, except that this time the slightly risky direction isn't quite as annoying. Still, I think if the director had focused more on the story and action and less on how fast or slow he would show a scene, Kiss of the Dragon might be a lot better.
Surprisingly, I found this movie excessively gory and violent. I might not one to object to violence for the most part, but Kiss of the Dragon has a lot of blood, broken necks, and more. There are a lot of times when it seems as though the people making this film forgot that they are making a kung fu movie, not an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Also, the lead villain role, played by Karyo, is one of the most ambiguously violent bad guys to ever hit the screen. He is a policeman yet somehow, in France, it is okay for policemen to beat up and kill people in restaurants and other public places without anyone questioning his actions. Actually, there isn't a good French cop shown in the whole picture, which seems sort of strange; couldn't there have been some good French cops to contrast this hideously corrupt cop?
Kiss of the Dragon is a movie that is trying to do a lot more than it can do. Drama doesn't work too well when the dialogue is being exchanged between an American actress and a Chinese actor who has limited English skills; Li should stick to action. The movie needs a lot more action and a lot less talking, and an interesting plot to tie everything together. All in all, Kiss of the Dragon is a real disappointment.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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