Kiss of the Dragon
Directed by Chris Nahon. Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tchéky Karyo, Max Ryan, Bert Kwouk. (2001, R, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 6, 2001
If it looks like a sucking chest wound, and it oozes like a sucking chest wound, then chances are good that it is, indeed, a sucking chest wound. So it goes also with Luc Besson (The Messenger, The Fifth Element), whose name is officially attached to Kiss of the Dragon in a producing and co-screenwriting capacity only, although it is apparent immediately that Besson had some sort of hand in the direction as well. Certainly this highly stylized, hyper-violent slice of Parisian kung-fu mania betrays virtually all of Besson's usual tropes, from a dirty-to-the-core psycho cop to the heavily mascaraed junkie heroin(e) theatrics of Fonda (who not coincidentally starred in Point of No Return, the American remake of Besson's La Femme Nikita). For all intents and purposes this is a Luc Besson movie, regardless of whose name is lodged in the “directed by” slot. The credited director, Chris Nahon, is a mystery to me; it's apparently his debut feature, and while it's certainly a coup to be working from an original Besson script, you have to wonder if anyone's going to think of this as anything other than the latest Besson shoot 'em-up. Those directing mysteries aside, however, Kiss of the Dragon is a taut, down-and-dirty actioner that spends little time with the niceties of plot logistics when it can better serve us with bullet balletics, hair-raising stunts, and the legendary martial arts of Hong Kong superstar Jet Li. Li landed in America a few years back -- hot on the heels of fellow HK expats Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat -- and stole Lethal Weapon 4 away from Gibson and Glover before appearing in the hip-hop-flavored Romeo Must Die. Kiss of the Dragon, with its dark, almost comic-book tone and the knock 'em-dead cinematography of Besson regular Thierry Arbogast, is more akin to Li's work with Tsui Hark than any of his tepid American offerings. The story has Li as Detective Liu Jian, the HK Police Department's “supercop” (and in Asian cinema is there ever any other kind?), who arrives in Paris to oversee a Golden Triangle heroin sting. Once there, however, he runs afoul of Gendarme From Hell Jean-Pierre Richard (Karyo, of The Patriot), who quickly perceives Liu Jian as a threat to his own dirty work. The only surviving witness from the resulting bloodbath is Fonda's junkie mom Jessica, who immediately aligns herself with the black-clad fist of fury in an effort to save her young daughter from the clutches of the evil Richard. Yes, I know it sounds like hokum, and frankly, it is, but what hokum! Besson's script is loaded with explosive set-piece after set-piece, each and every one designed to give Li the opportunity to do what he does best: kick massive butt. Although Kiss of the Dragon is ostensibly a French-American co-production, the tone of the film is deeply European, with dark, thuggy Frenchmen plodding about and many of Besson's odd touches (the psychotic Richard, for instance, keeps a pet terrapin in his desk drawer). By far, one of the better action films to come down the pike in some time, this is a garish, rocket-fueled slice of popcorn mayhem, and the perfect antidote to this summer's limp action lineup.