Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 9, 2022)
After his US breakout performance in 1998ís Lethal Weapon 4, Jet Li appeared to be on the fast track for major success in the US. This never quite happened, and the mediocrity of 2001ís Kiss of the Dragon reminds us why.
Dragon follows the adventures of Chinese officer Liu Jian (Li) as he comes to France to cooperate on a case with the Parisian police, led by Inspector Richard (Karyo). However, they have other plans.
Instead of apprehending a suspect, they kill him and frame Liu. He escapes and conveniently grabs an incriminating videotape, and Richardís men try to find and eliminate Liu.
Most of the movie follows those attempts, and we also get involved with another witness to the event, junkie prostitute Jessica (Fonda). Richard holds her daughter and keeps her drugged to make her pliable. Through some unlikely circumstances, Jessica and Liu get to know each other and try to aid both their quests.
All of this seems pretty tired, as thereís nothing in the filmís story to make it stand out from the crowd. However, I donít really fault movies to a great degree just because of bland plots. Lots of flicks feature ordinary stories but work wonders with the material.
Unfortunately, Dragon doesnít fall into that category. For the most part, it just seems like yet another by-the-numbers action flick.
The French setting feels unusual, but director Chris Nahon really doesnít do much with it to make the locale unique or involving. In addition, he tends to ruin many of the fight sequences with excessive cutting.
As such, we have a Jet Li flick in which we rarely get a good sense for Liís talents. Instead, the film seems so choppy that anyone could have done much of the work.
For this kind of picture, itís important to get a feel for the performer and see many shots that linger for longer than, say, an eighth of a second. Nahon apparently thinks that the rapid cuts will increase the level of excitement.
Heís wrong. Instead, they dissipate a lot of the natural energy that otherwise could have occurred.
In addition, the film features some excessively gruesome sequences. I have no problem with gore when appropriate, but at times, it seems as though the movie offers blood simply for the sake of blood.
Actually, that may not be totally true, as I get the feeling that Nahon thinks graphic violence equals ďrealismĒ or ďgrittinessĒ, whereas thatís not the case. In this instance, it simply feels like an easy tool to provoke a response from the audience.
Possibly my biggest complaint about Dragon, however, stems from its poor use of Li. Though Iíve only seen a few of his flicks, his physical presence always impressed me.
Liís not much of an actor, at least not in the English-language offerings, as in these he comes across as quite flat and one-dimensional in scenes that donít require action. Nonetheless, his martial arts skills usually redeem his lack of talent as a thespian.
That doesnít occur during Dragon. To be sure, the action scenes become the most compelling ones in the movie, but thatís more of a reflection on the bland quality of the rest of it.
Nahon doesnít appear to know the best way to feature his star, which is why we find that awkward and choppy editing that badly mars the action sequences. As such, Li comes across poorly. After a viewing of Dragon, I found it hard to remember why Li made such a strong impression on me in earlier efforts.
On the positive side, Fonda offers a surprisingly rich and strong performance as Jessica. She seems to inhabit the role well, as she makes Jessica appear appropriately battered and bruised emotionally and physically. Fonda provides the one real piece of positive work in this otherwise muddled affair.
Unfortunately, itís not enough to redeem Kiss of the Dragon. The movie came and went quickly during its theatrical release, and for good reason - itís a bland, uninventive and thoroughly mediocre film.
Almost nothing about it stands out to me as particularly compelling, and I feel as if Iíd seen it all before - many, many times before, in fact.