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Kiss of the Dragon

Kiss Believability Goodbye

By Pey-Hua Hwang

Staff Writer

Directed by Chris Nahon

Written by Jet Li and Luc Besson

Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo, and Max Ryan

Rated R

Kiss of the Dragon is a highly contrived, entirely action sequence-driven, summer action movie. Generally speaking, there is a certain suspension of disbelief when one goes to see a movie, but Kiss of the Dragon can’t seem to decide between just maintaining a completely over-the-top plot or the reality of a drama leaving the viewer merely laughing at the inconsistency.

This film finds Johnny (Jet Li), a Chinese intelligence officer in Paris, as he is supposedly going to help in a drug bust but ends up being framed for two murders by the crooked head of the French Police force Jean-Pierre Richard (Tcheky Karyo).

The murder has only one witness, Jessica (Bridget Fonda), an “ex-junkie hooker” whose daughter is being held hostage by Richard. Not surprisingly, Jessica and Johnny end up teaming up to take Richard down.

However, the motivations and character dynamics are never clearly resolved in Kiss of the Dragon. Richard never seems to have a motive for his malevolence. There are also plenty of loose ends: for example, at one point, Johnny goes to find the “emergency phone” as he is playing fugitive from the French police. At this point, he also stumbles upon a large stash of automatic firearms which are employed in quelling some security guards but are thereafter never again noted.

Yet, even with a threadbare plot, when Li is fighting, the film almost does justice to his martial arts skill. Fast, brutal, and at times comical, Li finds ways to use steam irons, a red billiard ball, chopsticks, and various blunt objects that Richard’s thugs attack him with. Single-handedly disarming, dislocating, and occasionally dismembering his opponents, Li’s character is the one redeeming feature of this movie. His final face-off with Richard, though it explains the movie’s title, is almost anti-climatic after seeing the fight scene before.

As far as acting, Max Ryan manages to steal a scene as the sleazy Lupo, Jessica’s pimp, who cares nothing for flesh but much for profit. He stands out as the only character whose motives are clear.

Much more could have been done with Tcheky Karyo’s super villain who always gets away clean. For the part he is given, though, Karyo pulls off the part of smooth diplomat when speaking to government officials, sympathetic friend when speaking to Jessica’s daughter, and mob leader as he orders his goons about with polish.

Fonda, as the girl who just turned down the wrong path, keeps her part marginally believable.

Kiss of the Dragon, if watched in the spirit of “let’s see Jet Li kick ass and laugh at this movie’s sad attempts to be serious,” is not a bad movie. For anyone interested in character development or a plot without enormous holes, Kiss of the Dragon is a waste of time.