One smooch and you're toast!
For me, Jet Li is to Jackie Chan what Jean-Claude Van Damme is to Arnold Schwarzenegger (except in a better fashion). While Jackie Chan has had much success in American movies, Jet Li has struggled. Li's big break came in 1997 when he played a martial arts baddie in Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon 4. Later he appeared in the Joel Silver-produced disappointment Romero Must Die starring the late R&B singer Aaliyah. This past year, Li was featured in the time-bending sci-fi action flick The One, which drummed up only minor box office receipts. In the summer of 2001, Li was cast beside Bridget Fonda (Lake Placid, Point Of No Return) in the kung-fu feature Kiss Of The Dragon. Conceived and produced by Luc Besson (The Messenger, The Fifth Element), Kiss Of The Dragon does a flying komodo kick on DVD care of Fox Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Jet Li plays Lui, a Chinese cop obsessed with his work; he has no need for a wife, fun or recreation. Brought into Paris to assist in a drug-smuggling sting (or something of that nature), Liu becomes the patsy in a double murder by a mean looking, French spouting inspector named Jean-Pierre Richard (Tcheky Karyo, Bad Boys). While Liu knows that Richard killed a hooker and a businessman, everyone else thinks that Liu is the culprit! Soon Liu is on the run from the law and the bad guys as he moves through the streets of Paris with lightning quick speed. Setting up shop with an old acquaintance, Uncle Tai (Burt Kwock), Liu tries desperately to clear his name with a videotape showing who the real murderer is. Teaming up with a call girl named Jessica (Fonda), a witness to the scene of the crime, Liu battles criminals and thugs with quick martial arts moves and acupuncture needles (used to incapacitate evildoers) tied around his wrist! With the police on his trail and Richard wanting him dead, Liu must use every move he knows the thwart his nemesis and clear his name!
Normally I'm all for kung-fu movies with million dollar budgets. With the possible exception of Rush Hour 2, I've enjoyed almost every Jackie Chan film I've seen. While Jet Li doesn't possess the wacky charisma that Chan has, Li still has shone bright in such genre fare as the enjoyable yet silly Romeo Must Die and the frivolously fun Lethal Weapon 4. Sadly, Kiss Of The Dragon doesn't live up to Li's reputation. Aside from being somewhat confusing (why concoct an overly complicated plot when all you're going to do is have people killing each other in extensive action scenes?), the movie is also anti-climactic and, well…not a lot of fun.
The fault doesn't really lie in Jet Li's performance. Li is a likable performer who has a quiet way about him. He looks good on camera and is able enough with his minimal dialogue. The real problem is that there isn't a whole lot going on that we haven't seen before. Aside of the neat idea of Li using acupuncture needles to take out villains, Kiss Of The Dragon is just a lot of flat chase/action sequences strung together by a frustrating plot. In fact, after the movie leaves its initial set-up, all we do is watch Li run from one scene to another with a few stops in-between for some heavy handed schmaltz with Bridget Fonda's character. Speaking of which, Fonda is at her worst here as a sexy prostitute who really has a heart of gold. Riiiiiight. Didn't see THAT coming from a mile away. Half of her problem lies in the script, and the other half in her delivery (every emotion that pours out of her is either cutesy sarcasm or teary-eyed weepiness). Everyone else running around this movie has two objectives: look mean and be destructive. Tcheky Karyo (Goldeneye actor Sean Bean's doppelganger) gets his character's snarling emotions down, but in the end he just comes off as another bland baddie.
Even with all the stuff I think is wrong with Kiss Of The Dragon, there are a few things it gets right. I enjoyed a sequence where Li is trapped in a laundry chute while flames, a grenade, and heavy bags threaten to turn him into toast. The martial arts moves are all top-notch and professional; action coordinator Cory Yuen knows exactly how to make a kick to the head look real. In all honesty, the movie has a very polished look to it. However, gloss and shine can't cover up its general banality. I still have faith that Li will continue to work in Hollywood, and someday find a script that works completely in his favor. Until then, it looks like were stuck with bland fare like Kiss Of The Dragon.
Kiss Of The Dragon is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. To no one's surprise this newly filmed transfer looks excellent. Nary a spot of edge enhancement or grain are present during any of the scenes. Predominant grays and blacks look solid and even while color schemes are bright and well saturated. Fox has done a great job on this great looking transfer.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English as well as Dolby Digital Surround in English and Spanish. Like the transfer, this 5.1 audio track is top-notch with all aspects of the dialogue, effects, and music clear. There are multiple instances where the front and rear speakers are engaged and rumbling. The main component for this track is the thumping techno/rap music score. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Kiss Of The Dragon isn't officially titled as a "Special Edition," though it does include some substantial extra features. To start off with there is a commentary track by director Chris Nahon and actors Jet Li and Bridget Fonda. This is an engaging track that starts off right away with Bridget Fonda divulging how the picture came to be. All the participants seem to really enjoy the film and have a great time discussing the movie. Sometimes the track gets a little hard to understand with Li and Nahon's accents, but overall this is an informative track chock fill of production tidbits.
Next up is a spate of featurettes starting with "Jet Li: Fighting Philosophy." How can you not like a guy who makes this statement: "I play a lots of heroes, I'm not a hero. I play a few bad guys, but I'm not a bad guy. I'm just a normal person." How humble. This feature focuses on an interview with Jet Li and basically looks at his persona on and off the silver screen. "Cory Yuen: Action Academy" takes a look at martial arts action director Cory Yuen and his persona, history and philosophy on martial arts. Since Yuen doesn't speak a lick of English, this feature has a voice over for us English speaking moviegoers. "On The Set Action" is a very short music video-ish feature that shows clips from the film spliced with behind-the-scenes footage. A "Kiss The Dragon" Featurette is just your basic promotional fluff that explains the plot, shows lots of clips, and includes a few scant interviews with principles from the cast and crew.
A "Storyboard To Screen Comparison" allows the viewer to look at the laundry room chute scene. You can view this with either just the storyboard, just the film, or the two combined. Another section of storyboards features a scene storyboarded from "The Orphanage" scene. "Police Gymnasium Fight—Martial Arts Demo" allows the viewer to watch the scene from the film, then look at the actors and martial arts director rehearsing the scene.
Finally there is a relatively extensive array of "Production Stills" in a gallery that includes behind the scenes photos and artwork, six full frame "TV Spots," a non-anamorphic widescreen trailer, and two trailers for the movies Behind Enemy Lines and Planet Of The Apes.
Kung-fu fighting and action fans will surely want to see Kiss Of The Dragon. While it's not an especially bad movie, it just doesn't have much originality or kick to it. Fox's presentation on the video and audio specs are excellent, however, and the supplemental materials is substantial and full. Let's hope that in the future Jet Li's career goes onward and upward!
Kiss Of The Dragon is found guilty of being the same old martial arts stuff we've come to know from around the year 1997. Fox is free to go due to their inspiring work on this disc.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Chris Nahon and Actors Jet Li and Bridget Fonda
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