“There is a time for diplomacy and a time for action. Diplomacy is dead.”
Jet Li’s films are usually hard-edged, ultraviolent affairs offering film-goers an invigorating shot of adrenaline. 2001’s Kiss Of The Dragon is no different. In the mouth of martial arts megastar Li, a polite request like, “I would very much appreciate it if you don’t do that again”, comes dripping with menace, and is backed-up by the fastest and deadliest martial arts since the days of Bruce Lee.
After dealing with several Hollywood misfires, and hearing about how fans were a bit miffed that all of those films had him inexplicably dangling from wires and computer effects for no damn reason, Li came up with an idea for a martial arts film that would allow him to get back to basics, and none other than Luc Besson took his idea and wrote a script, hired one of his cohorts, Chris Nahon, and produced, and thus came Kiss Of The Dragon.
In the film, Li stars as Liu Jiuan, a Beijing cop who has traveled to Paris to aid in a police raid against a heroin smuggler. When the head of Paris’ police department, Richard (Tchéky Karyo), ends up murdering the suspect, as well as a prostitute, in a hotel room and setting Liu up as the murderer, it is up to Liu to escape suspicions and seek revenge on the crooked cops behind the operation. Giving Liu an added reason to go after them, Liu meets Jessica (Bridget Fonda), a mother-turned-drug-addict/hooker whose daughter is being held hostage by Richard.
The title “Kiss Of The Dragon” is derived from one of the last scenes in the movie, in which Liu punctures Richard in the back of the neck with an acupuncture needle at a “very forbidden” point on the body. The puncture itself, called “kiss of the dragon”, traps all the body’s blood in the head and causes side effects of quadriplegia, bleeding from the head’s orifices, and a painful death via a brain aneurysm.
Okay, first things first. Yes, there are many flaws with this film (the plot is so contrived it’ll make your head spin). But let’s talk about the real reason we watch these movies. The action. Here, the marriage of Eastern and Western filmmaking has never looked better. Luc Besson’s influence on the film is clearly seen. His principle cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast who had worked on most of Besson’s films handles action director, Corey Yuen’s fight scenes incredibly well. The colors and tone of the film are clearly European, but the rapid movements and intensity are most definitely Hong Kongese.
The martial arts action positively glistens. It’s straightforward street fighting, complete with the Jet Li flourish, but blessedly free of the wire work that had become so in vogue at the time. Instead, Li’s kung-fu has an honest, gritty vitality that makes for scenes that reach for the sublimity of Fist Of Legend, especially when he lays waste to the entire French police force in their karate dojo. A deft use of medium shots and tight editing bring the action up to the edge, and the results are simply… stunning.
It should be noted that there is no humor in this film, only viciousness and violence. The fight scenes lack Jackie Chan’s lightness of touch, or the balletic beauty of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now, this isn’t inherently a bad thing. It only means that the film isn’t for everyone. In fact, upon its release, due to its violence, Kiss Of The Dragon was actually banned in China.
Yes sir. The weak of stomach should avoid this one at all costs. Kiss Of The Dragon doesn’t do smart, it doesn’t do subtle and it certainly doesn’t do gentle. What it does do is brutal, fast-paced, bloody mayhem – and it does that very well indeed. Whack! Thworp! Crack! Sometimes, it’s just fun to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of bad guys getting their heads beaten in.
All these years later, and Kiss Of The Dragon still provides enough thrills and rousing action sequences to more than warrant a revisit. Big, dumb, and a lot of fun.