Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kiss of the Dragon

The Action Mutant…
wonders how martial arts films would be different if Elvis were still around.

Kiss of the Dragon

review by Joe Burrows

The year was 1998. The fourth installment of the Lethal Weapon series opened and everyone was going gaga over the short Asian guy with the mad martial arts skills. Everyone was expecting Jet Li to become the next Jackie Chan and tear the American action landscape a new one. However, there was one problem: Jackie smiles way more. While one could imagine Chan being a fixture for Disney or some other family entity, Jet just didn’t work that way. He’s Bruce Lee without the wacky war cries and…face it, he rarely smiles! Jet has gotten steady work in the U.S. but has never captured America’s short attention span like Jackie did during that magical year of 1995. This is a shame, because Kiss of the Dragon is one fine action saga.

The Plot, as it was:
Jet is Liu Jian, an undercover cop who goes to Paris to be apart of a sting against a Chinese drug kingpin. Things get all wonky when the drug lord orders up a few hookers so he can “go to heaven”. One of the hookers (Laurence Ashley) actually grants his wish, as she stabs the drug lord dead with chopsticks. The ladies actually work for the leader of the French vice squad Richard (Tcheky Karyo), who is out to grow on his own drug and prostitution ring in the city. Richard disposes of the hooker afterwards but the murder is mistakenly caught on tape. Liu witnesses what really took place and ends up on the run with the tape of the killing and the second hooker Jessica (Bridget Fonda), who is usually drugged up and kept on the streets while her daughter is held under constant surveillance by Richard and his thugs.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
One of the main problems with Jet Li’s foray into America was much like Chan’s initial problems: right time, wrong vehicle. Romeo Must Die, Li’s first American feature was a muddled mix of B-Movie stars and hip-hop that didn’t exactly go over as well as expected. That feeling carried over (unfortunately) with KotD, though it was a much different film. This release is more reminiscent of Li’s Hong Kong efforts, with much more realistic fighting and more keeping to Li’s strengths. Keeping that in mind, Li still comes off wooden, sometimes making Charles Bronson look like Krusty the Clown by comparison. He’s better as the strong, silent type however, which the filmmakers try to keep him as often as possible. The story is no new shakes but it is kept moving briskly nonetheless, despite some lags at times (which are perked up by some hard hitting action sequences). Karyo makes a menacing villain (much like he did in Bad Boys) and Fonda does the most with what she’s given, which is a mostly underwritten part. She manages to carry her scenes with Li well, which is a pretty nice surprise.

Body Count/Violence: 31. Jet falls into the same trappings that other martial artists do and that’s that they don’t always finish off their foes. In many scenes, Jet is more apt to kick his opponent into sludge than to just out-and-out annihilate them a la Seagal. However, there is a good amount of bloody gunplay (it is a Luc Besson produced film, after all) and the fight scenes are pretty brutal (the fight with the twins in the office complex being a highlight). Jet works in a few inventive kills that involve everything from billiard balls, to acupuncture needles, to just straight dropping a guy onto his neck. My favorite: the laundry chute sequence. I’ll leave it at that.

Sexuality/Nudity: I generally have a thing for Bridget Fonda, which is good because her costuming here consists of her lingerie popping out constantly in full view. She’s one of the sexier cracked-out whores in recent cinema history, which is no doubt a great distinction. Her partner-in-crime at the hotel does well by herself, as she seductively rides the drug lord while wearing black lingerie and fishnets. No nudity, but the sexual nature of the surroundings is milked very well. There’s also a part where Fonda head butts a fat, old whore in her nose, breaking it and leaving her squealing in pain. I just mentioned that because it was funny.

Language/Dialogue: A few F’s here and there, plus other stuff but nothing to write home about.

How bad was it?:
Ebert gave it ***/**** but, as with most action fare, the response is mixed. Some liked it while others called it another failed Jet Li vehicle. Some reviewers still have the mentality that if Li didn’t make it in Hong Kong, it’s not worth the time.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Despite some big hype, KotD started slow and never really recovered. Based on a $25 million budget, the 20th Century Fox action flick opened in 4th place on 7/6/01 with $13.3 million. Buried by such crap as the sequels to Scary Movie and Dr. Dolittle, it never got higher than its opening weekend place and just kept sinking further and further each week. It slogged its way to $36.8 million in its 15 week run, leaving Jet to wait until he starred in Hero the following year to really break out.

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: ****/*****

Copyright 2007 The Action Mutant.

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