Posts Tagged ‘Kiss of the Dragon’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published November 16th 2001:

All this waffle leads me into talking about Chris Nahon’s Kiss of the Dragon, a good example of a case in point [vaguely risible pontificating on the martial arts movie genre has been snipped – A]. It’s a movie with American backing and an American co-star (Bridget Fonda), a Chinese star (Li) and expertise, and a French location, director, and villain. It was co-produced and written by Luc Besson, director of action fantasies like Leon, La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element, and his fingerprints are all over this movie.

Li plays Liu Jian, a Chinese cop sent to Paris to help the local police deal with an expat gangster. Unfortunately his contact, Inspector Richard (the hard-to-pronounce Besson regular Tcheky Karyo) is as bent as a corkscrew and murders the Chinese crime lord, framing Li in the process. Of course Li is forced to go on the run from the police until he can clear his name, and of course this requires a quite stupendous amount of ass-kicking.

I enjoyed this movie more than was probably decent, and for some dubious reasons. For example Li’s only friend in Paris is an aging Chinese ‘sleeper’ agent played by none other than Burt ‘Hey Little Hen’ Kwouk. (Jet Li and Burt Kwouk in the same movie! In the same scene! Surely cinema can get no better!) And Karyo’s performance as the villain is so spectacularly over-the-top that it makes Gary Oldman’s very similar turn in Leon look catatonically underplayed. The set-piece fights are inventive, witty, and well-choreographed, with very little wire-work so far as I could tell.

Thankfully (and unlike Li’s last starring role, in Romeo Must Die) this film doesn’t try to turn him into Jackie Chan – there’s no shortage of gore, shootings, people getting blown in half by grenades, or anything else a really good family film requires. Li’s a better actor, and has a much more intense and physical screen presence, too. (We’re also spared the cheerful closing sequence, de rigeur in Chan movies, of cast members being rushed to first aid/casualty/the morgue after stunts don’t quite go as planned.)

I must point out a few flaws, however – the plot is reliant on one huge coincidence to function, and it’s never really made clear why Karyo wants to frame Li in the first place. Fonda’s character is a prostitute from the same grittily realistic tradition as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and some of her early scenes with Li do seem to drag on interminably. And there’s the usual Hollywood wussiness that chickens out of presenting a full-on mixed-race romance (one of Romeo Must Die‘s flaws, too) – is America really still so uptight about this sort of thing?

But on the whole, if you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably have a whale of a time in Kiss of the Dragon. Outrageously entertaining.

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