Ten years ago, before Hollywood accepted Asian heroes in its martial arts movies, a kung-fu flick as pea-brained and badly acted as "Kiss of the Dragon" would most certainly have starred Jean-Claude Van Damme. But nowadays Hong Kong staple Jet Li ("Romeo Must Die") does the embarrassing honors himself.
Its plot -- virtuous visiting Chinese cop (Li) versus flagrantly crooked, preposterously evil Paris police inspector (Tcheky Karyo) -- is so inept that the movie never once even alludes to the rogue cop's motives. He kills a Chinese businessman and frames Li to get the ball rolling. He sends a handful of super-buff henchmen (who clearly aren't cops but come and go as they please from police HQ) to kill Li when he escapes. He runs a heroin ring and has apparently kidnapped -- I'm not making this up -- a "farmer's daughter from North Dakota" (Bridget Fonda in a career nadir) and forced her to become a back alley hooker by threatening to kill her daughter.
But why is he doing all this? What's his goal? Who, for example, was the Chinese businessman and what does killing him do for the cop?
I wouldn't ask such questions if "Kiss of the Dragon" made it worth my while to check my brain at the door. But in 100 minutes of screen time, there is not a single exciting or even entertaining moment. Director Chris Nahon (a feeble protege of producer Luc Besson) gives Jet Li way too much acting (something he's never been very good at) and not nearly enough butt-kicking (which is why people go to his movies in the first place).
When Li does get to kick up his heels, it's in downright boring fight sequences that are so generic as to defy description. Save the one signature shot used in the commercials -- Li kicking a billiard ball at a guy's head -- there's simply nothing memorable about these dull duels whatsoever except that they are often graphically, gratuitously bloody.
Gratutiousness seems to be a recurring theme here. Karyo's cop is so over-the-top cruel that he indiscriminately shoots innocent bystanders and his own men (without ever answering to his police superiors). Yet he keeps Fonda alive, forcing her to shoot heroin for no explored reason, even though she's so obnoxious and skittish that she has to be the worst hooker in the history of the sex trade.
He's also shown turning turtles on their backs for fun, which goes to show how simple-minded "Kiss of the Dragon" really is -- Nahon seems to need such idiotic contrivances to give the movie any flavor at all. For the same reason Jet Li wears a bracelet of acupuncture needles, which he uses to paralyze opponents and put Fonda to sleep. The filmmakers clearly feel the need to ply the picture with clumsy gimmicks.
Conceived by Jet Li himself, "KOD" (as the studio is hyping it) was co-written by comic book-minded producer Besson ("The Fifth Element," "The Messenger"), who blatantly steals scenes from his own movies (the laundry chute blast from "La Femme Nikita") and from those of superior action directors (the tunnel chase from "Ronin"). Plus the movie goes out of its way to dumb down every single element of the story -- even going so far as to force an Anglo nickname on Jet Li's character so American halfwits won't get confused by having to remember his Chinese moniker.
Kowtowing further to what U.S. action audiences have come to expect, half the movie is inexplicably accompanied by a gansta rap soundtrack -- so apropos to a plot about a Chinese cop and a girl from North Dakota in France, don't you think?
I stopped taking notes about halfway through "Kiss of the Dragon" because there didn't seem to be much of a point once it hit a certain level of stupidity (a 10 minute fight in the middle of police HQ yet no police show up) and discontinuity (two guys firing machine guns at Li and Fonda simply disappear from a scene).
Overproduced action movies aimed at the lowest common denominator simply cannot get any more trite or insultingly hackneyed than "Kiss of the Dragon."
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th July 2001
Box Office USA: $34.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $64.4M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Current Entertainment, Immortal Entertainment
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Fresh: 54 Rotten: 52
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Chris Nahon
Starring: Jet Li as Liu Jian, Bridget Fonda as Jessica Kamen, Tchéky Karyo as Insp. Richard, Max Ryan as Lupo, Ric Young as Mister Big, Burt Kwouk as Uncle Tai, Laurence Ashley as Aja, Cyril Raffaelli as Twin
Also starring: Tcheky Karyo
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