Skip to main content

Should I Watch..? 'Kiss Of The Dragon' (2001)

Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!

Promo poster

Promo poster

What's the big deal?

Kiss Of The Dragon is a martial arts action thriller film released in 2001 and was co-written and co-produced by French auteur Luc Besson. The film depicts a Chinese intelligence agent in Paris who is betrayed by the French authorities he was working alongside and goes on the run with a potentially important witness. The film stars Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tchéky Karyo and was directed by Chris Nahon for his feature film debut. Li, who also co-produced the picture, insisted on the film focusing on realistic action and the film is notable for its lack of CG effects and wire work. Despite a mixed reception from critics, the film proved a modest success at the box office with global takings of $64.4 million. Like many of Li's western films, Kiss Of The Dragon sadly failed to bring him the same level of success as his contemporary Jackie Chan, who found international fame thanks to films like Rush Hour.

Forgettable

What's it about?

Chinese intelligence officer Liu Jian is sent to Paris to help the local authorities bring in a notorious heroin smuggler, Mr Big. Working alongside French Inspector Richard, Jian learns that he is to observe a meeting via surveillance between Mr Big and some of his flunkies. As the night wears on, Mr Big retires to his hotel room with a couple of prostitutes but while the law watches on via hidden cameras, one of the women murders Mr Big by repeatedly stabbing him. Horrified, Jian bursts in and manages to subdue the woman but Richard arrives and shoots both Big and the woman dead - with Jian's police-issue handgun.

Before he can be apprehended though, Jian escapes from the hotel and acquires the video tape proving his innocence. As news of the murder spreads to Beijing, other Chinese agents are dispatched to bring Jian in along with Richard's men who insist on pursuing Jian as their prime suspect. Luckily, Jian has another ace up his sleeve where he meets Jennifer - the second woman in the hotel room that night. Realising her importance, Jian tries to get her to help him but Jennifer has her own reasons for not wanting to get involved and it's nothing to do with the violent thugs chasing them...

Trailer

What's to like?

Kiss Of The Dragon may be fairly by-the-numbers action fare but it does have some things going for it. Without question, Li's physicality in the lead role is one of the film's strengths as he leaps, punches and kicks all over the screen like a video game character. He's like a more focused Chan, dispensing with the comedy and relying on brutal, hard-hitting action which is certainly impressive for viewers not used to seeing him before. Karyo can play corrupt policemen in his sleep and he is at his creepy best here with distant echoes of Gary Oldman's memorably psychotic DEA officer in Leon - which, of course, was also from the mind of Besson. He's a anarchic counterpoint to Li's goody-two-shoes character.

Nahon's direction might be simplistic but a straight-forward action film doesn't need fancy visuals to carry it off. Of course, Paris looks as beautiful as always on screen and while the action scenes may be pedestrian, Nahon makes them look energetic and exciting. Having a veteran action star like Li on hand is obviously a massive influence on his direction and while Nahon's career hasn't exactly taken off (he seems to be more focused on filming documentaries these days), his eye for action is commendable. The problem with a film like Kiss Of The Dragon is that it doesn't do enough to make it stand out - it's that most damning of things, 'fine'. It's an OK film for viewers in the right mindset but sadly, that's all it is.

Li excels when the movie calls for him to kick some ass. When it calls for him to act, however, then he's not so good.

Li excels when the movie calls for him to kick some ass. When it calls for him to act, however, then he's not so good.

Fun Facts

  • There are only two shots in the entire movie that used CGI - the scene where Li falls down a laundry shoot surrounded by flames and the scene where he kicks a ball from a pool table. This decision stemmed from fan reaction to Li's previous film Romeo Must Die which called for more realistic action, similar to his earlier work in films such as Fist Of Legend.
  • Despite being a French production, none of the three leads are actually French. Li is Chinese, Fonda is American and Karyo was born in Istanbul although he moved to Paris when he was a young boy. On a similar theme, Jian and his uncle (played by British actor Burt Kwouk) speak English at all times despite both characters being Chinese.
  • The final fight scene between Li and Cyril Raffaelli caused Nahon some problems. Firstly, the two of them were moving too fast for the cameras to pick up so the action had to be slowed down. Secondly, Raffaelli's somersault kick needed the addition of wire work to slow it down because it looked too blurry on camera although the action star was more than capable of doing the move without such assistance.
Scroll to Continue

What's not to like?

As great as Li is in the action scenes, he is much less convincing in those that don't involve violence. Still grappling with the English language at this time, he simply doesn't come across as an engaging lead actor and lacks the charisma Chan brings to every one of his roles. On a personal level, I also felt he was hampered with a poor haircut that makes him look like a Wish version of Spock from the original Star Trek show. Another disappointment is Fonda who is saddled with a fairly standard tart-with-a-heart role that is frankly beneath an actress of her calibre. It's a pity we don't see anything of her these days but I can't begrudge someone for following their own path.

The film's biggest problem is that it's extremely ordinary. The film doesn't bring anything new to the table and even the setting has seen more than its fair share of action scenes over the years from the under-rated Ronin to the blistering The Bourne Identity and even The Da Vinci Code. There's nothing wrong with the film - it's technically competent, at least - but it fails to really excite viewers or feel like anything but a star vehicle for the undoubtedly flexible Li. Yes, it's one of his better films that he went when he tried to break the US market but there's no escaping the fact that this feels like filler compared to his earlier exploits in the acclaimed Once Upon A Time In China franchise. He just feels more comfortable in Asian cinema than he does in a modern, western setting - compare his performance here to his astonishing performance in Hero and you'll see what I mean.

The film is one of Bridget Fonda's final roles before her retirement in 2002 and considering her talents, she deserved more than this.

The film is one of Bridget Fonda's final roles before her retirement in 2002 and considering her talents, she deserved more than this.

Should I watch it?

Kiss Of The Dragon is a serviceable action thriller that is as fluid and dynamic in the action scenes as it is plodding and stodgy during the rest of it. If you've never seen a Jet Li film before then his athleticism will win you over but you might be asking what else makes him so special. This film isn't the best showcase for him, to be honest and assuming you have no issue watching a foreign language film then you're better off seeking out his work produced in his native Hong Kong and China.

Great For: undemanding action fans, anyone desperate for a bit of martial arts, paying the bills for its cast

Not So Great For: pushing boundaries, forging careers in the US, anyone with high expectations

What else should I watch?

It's a shame that Li's forays into American cinema underwhelmed as much as they did. He would have achieved far more expose as the baddie from the laboured Lethal Weapon 4 which was his first US film before he followed that up with the popular Romeo Must Die. Sadly, much of his output was average at best - The One, Cradle 2 The Grave and Unleashed all failed to generate much interest at the box office and critical reception wasn't that great either. After a final hit alongside Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom, his most recent appearances were alongside other action film legends in The Expendables franchise and a supporting role in the live-action Mulan remake.

For me, Li's biggest problem is that he's essentially Jackie Chan but with far less charisma. Chan's blend of acrobatic technique and expert comic timing has kept the man at the forefront of martial arts cinema for a long time, his breakthrough appearance in Snake In The Eagle's Shadow coming way back in 1978. Thanks to leading roles in the long-running Police Story series and his US breakthrough Rumble In The Bronx, Chan finally achieved a box office smash with the first Rush Hour which combined Chan's talents with Chris Tucker's motormouthed and ignorant LAPD officer to brilliant effect. Naturally, his speed and agility have faded over time and he is much more interested in pursuing dramatic roles than his usual slapstick combat combo. His performance was praised in films like Shinjuki Incident which sees Chan play a migrant Chinese worker in Japan who becomes a low level thug in Tokyo's criminal underground.

Main Cast

ActorRole

Jet Li

Inspector Liu 'Johnny' Jian

Bridget Fonda

Jessica Kamen

Tchéky Karyo

Inspector Jean-Pierre Richard

Ric Young

Mr Big

Burt Kwouk

Uncle Tai

Max Ryan

Lupo

Technical Info

*based on a story by Jet Li

DirectorChris Nahon

Screenplay

Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen*

Running Time

98 minutes

Release Date (UK)

9th November, 2001

Rating

18

Genre

Action, Crime, Thriller

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

Related Articles