Chris Nahon's Jet Li vehicle, "Kiss of the Dragon," makes the cardinal sin of trying to persuade the viewer that it is more that it actually is. Setting aside time to attempt character development and a deep emotional core, the film, instead, flounders in desperately overwrought dialogue and one of the most incomprehensible plots since 2000's "Battlefield Earth."
Jet 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 (Tcheky 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 motives behind what Richard, the archenemy, does throughout is both muddled and never explained. For instance, why is he trying to frame Liu for murder when he has just met him? And why does Richard insist that Jessica must remain a prostitute or have her young daughter be killed? Furthermore, why was Liu sought out in Paris from Beijing for a simple drug bust? Action movies, especially those that work as an exciting thrill-ride, do not always require stringent logic, but "Kiss of the Dragon" is so flawed on the story level that it can't be taken seriously for even one moment.
As for the vital action and martial arts sequences, the best that can be said about them is that they are well-choreographed, and often very violent and bloody. Their innovation level is close to nil, however, and seldom exciting. The thought of the very small Liu taking on a whole room full of martial arts students, leaving all of them pounded to the floor but without a scratch on himself, is ridiculous even for this genre of film.
Jet Li (2000's "Romeo Must Die") is adequate as the wronged Liu, but his English isn't very good, and this bars him from being able to express his character's feelings clearly. As a woman who simply wants her daughter back, but has found herself stuck in a grimy life of prostitution and needles shoved through her veins, Bridget Fonda (1999's "Lake Placid") is so much better than this movie. It's actually a bit disheartening seeing the usually very bright Fonda stuck in an unattractive role that has her saying the most godawful dialogue this side of a cheesy '80s slasher flick. Rounding out the three main players, Tcheky Karyo (2000's "The Patriot") grunts and narrows his eyes on cue as the incumbently vicious Richard.
Ineptly directed by newcomer Chris Nahon and written by the usually reliable Luc Besson (1994's "The Professional") and Robert Mark Kamen, "Kiss of the Dragon" may pass as a minor divergence for hard-core action fans, but everyone else should stay away. With a script that is a mess of cliches and bad drama, and not one scene that has the ability to get your heart racing, you have been officially warned.
©2001 by Dustin Putman