Ric Roman Waugh, 2013
"I would appreciate it if you didn't do that again."
It’s no secret that martial arts film often use their plot simply to get from one action sequence to another. When the fight scenes are enough to justify paying admission, there is no problem with this, as in most Jackie Chan projects and a lot of the Hong Kong actioners. When they aren’t, well, we’re in bad shape. Kiss of the Dragon, Jet Li’s second consecutive American misfire, plays like one big miscalculation, and fails even as the most rudimentary entertainment.
Now before I start getting e-mails angrily touting the genius of Jet Li, let me explain myself. Li is as spectacular as ever here, and I don’t think anyone would ever dare call his martial-arts-star skills into question. The problem isn’t with him, it’s with the movie’s tone. The much touted fight-scenes here are filmed with such unflinching, unrelenting brutality that they are unpleasant to watch. They’re joyless, perfuctory; Li’s rogue Chinese detective is more of a killing machine than a hero, a Terminator with a black belt instead of a metal skeleton. But even the Terminator in Judgement Day had a sympathetic side.
The plot isn’t relevant, but if you’re curious, it’s some nonsense about a Chinese law enforcement officer (Li) sent to Paris to investigate a possible drug ring and encounter a corrupt Chief of Police (Tcheky Karyo), who kills people and does sinister things with no motivation whatsoever. Oh yeah, and Li’s character is also an acupuncture expert who is able to ease pain and/or kill at the touch of a needle. “Kiss of the Dragon” is the name of an acupuncture maneuver, in which you stick a needle in a precise location on the back of the victim’s neck, somehow redirecting all of the body’s bloodflow to the brain and killing the poor sap more or less immediately.
There’s a vague attempt to humanize Li by having him fall in love with a downtrodden prostitute, whose daughter is being held hostage, for some reason, by the villain. This is one of the worst love stories I have ever seen on screen, even worse than the one in Pearl Harbor. There’s no conviction whatsoever as the movie barely pays lip service to it; it’s only here because someone apparently thought there should be some kind of boy-meets-girl subplot.
Kiss of the Dragon was written by Luc Besson, whose screenplay The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, for all of that film’s flaws, was at least thoughtful. I don’t know why the guy got himself involved in this train wreck, but perhaps he wanted to so something more mainstream after the neverending weirdness of The Fifth Element and the aforementioned stylized biopic. I suppose you could call this mainstream, but I’ll choose the bizarre any time of the day.
If action scenes in a movie are going to be brutal instead of dazzling, you need a story to justify watching them. The filmmakers behind Kiss of the Dragon should have rethought their strategy. No one will walk out of this misbegotten project smiling, but I hear Rush Hour 2 is coming in just a few weeks.
-- Eugene Novikov
|Starring:||Tcheky Karyo, Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Burt Kwouk|
|Directed by:||Chris Nahon|