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KISS OF THE DRAGON, 2001
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KISS OF THE DRAGON,   MOVIE POSTERKISS OF THE DRAGON, 2001
Movie Reviews

Directed by Chris Nahon
Starring: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tchéky Karyo, Max Ryan, Rick Young, Burt Kwouk, Laurence Ashley
Review by Steve Wrench


SYNOPSIS:

Liu Jian, a police officer from China, comes to Paris to help the vice squad apprehend a Chinese drug lord and his unknown French connection. During the busted operation he chances upon a prostitute who is linked to the goings-on. Teaming up, they find they can help each other out of their sticky situation.

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REVIEW:

Where's the first place you go when you visit Paris on your holidays? If you're Jet Li you head straight for the Red Light District. Then you find yourself up to your nunchucks in the seedy and dangerous world of cops and gangsters.

But what do you do when the cops ARE the gangsters?

Head of the Vice Squad Inspector Richard (Tcheky Karyo), and his thuggish fellow officers (a threatening bunch of meat heads) enlist the help of top Beijing cop and acupuncture expert Jian 'Jonny' (Jet Li) to assist in a top secret investigation to catch the aforementioned drug lord. The operation goes horribly wrong and before you can say 'deadly conspiracy' Li is framed for the Chinese smuggler's murder. After escaping with some incriminating evidence – a video showing the brutal and ruthless Richard doing the dirty deed – he meets Jessica (Bridget Fonda), an American who happens to be one of Richard's prostitutes. Together they do their best to elude the bullets and the bad guys on a non-stop chase round the seedy underbelly of Paris.

Richard is the rudest Frenchman of them all – shooting everything that moves and most things that don't – and it's anyone's guess as to why he's holding Jessica's daughter hostage in an orphanage and so forcing her on to the streets. Actually, if you pay attention to the dialogue, it's to force her to keep silent about Richard's activities. Why has he also framed Li, and for what reason was the Chinese gangster killed in the first place? Basically, don't ask. That's not why we are here.

This, like watching Jackie Chan in action, is about Jet Li and his amazing repertoire of martial arts moves as he pounds EVERY bad guy to a pulp. The film is refreshingly free of the flying and wiring work of the type that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon probably started the trend with, but it's not all about the chop-socky anyway. The bad guys have got plenty of their own weaponry which overall lends a fairly brutal air to the action. Faster than a speeding bullet, Li also proves to be a likeable and charismatic presence and the relationship between he and Fonda is handled sensitively enough, given the context.

The fight scenes are something to behold. Choreographed to perfection, Li shows the French who's boss, and as brought to you by Luc Besson, it goes without saying that ultra-style pervades throughout. It's Subway meets Leon meets Nikita meets Police Story. The story is by Jet Li, but, as with later films like The Transporter, District 13 or Taken, Luc Besson has written a film that, no matter how slick, is still perhaps laden with heavy-handed dialogue that doesn't require too much examination. The cast are polished off in ever more inventive ways and Karyo's sadistic performance is a real eye opener. Finally, while the days of bumbling Detective Clouseau (Sellers, not Martin) are long gone, it's nice to see that Kato is alive and well in the form of Burt Kwouk as Jet Li's 'Uncle Tai'.

So the film doesn't put a strain the old grey matter too much, but, as a showcase for Jet Li's fighting prowess, it excels - even if it's in small bursts. Jet Li has presence and he is a major star, but saying that Kiss of the Dragon may be his best movie outside the foreign language market, shows just how underutilized he's been in Hollywood.

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