Logline: Jet Li plays some…Chinese cop or something…who comes to France to solve…something regarding drugs or some crap. Point is, he runs around Paris kicking people in their faces and sticking them with acupuncture needles to either paralyze them or make their heads explode. And he helps an American sex worker find her daughter, because he’s nice like that.

This is pretty much a throwaway re-view week for two reasons. 1. I have a friend in town, and while we found 90+ minute to put aside in order to watch this film, I don’t really have enough time to really get too in-depth with this martial arts melodrama. 2. The film isn’t really about much, and while I can usually get five pages out of virtually nothing, nothing much came to mind while watching Kiss of the Dragon. I highly suggest you check out the film if you have Netflix Instant, though, and it’s not 90+ minutes of your life you’ll regret using up.

Is The Film Better Or Worse Than I Remember?

It’s worse, but it’s still thoroughly enjoyable. Back in 2001, Jet Li was still barely making it into the American mainstream, and while some of his dubbed films played well and opened nicely in the Bay Area (i.e. Black Mask), his only true American films had been his supporting role in Lethal Weapon 4 (a movie I quite like, but it’s desperately overstuffed, and the big Li sequence is my least favorite in the film) and the boring Romeo Must Die (with the pre-zombie Aaliyah). So Kiss of the Dragon, being his first real, balls-to-the-wall, American, English-language release, felt like a truly valid entry in random American production companies trying to capitalize on some damned good Asian martial arts. Sandwiched between Cats & Dogs and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (best day at the movies EVER!), this played upon my desire to see some well-choreographed facekicking and dickpunching, and the fact that the plot wasn’t dumb as a bag of hammers was just a bonus. And it actually got good reviews.

Now, I find the martial arts sequences even better than I remember them but find the plot scenes almost completely useless. Yes, it’s nice that they tried to give Li a personality and made him enough of a nice guy that he’d be willing to help some random junkie prostitute (a trying-way-too-hard Bridget Fonda), but my coffee-addled brain yesterday, while watching the movie, just wanted some more facekicking and dickpunching. Sometimes that’s just all one wants from a lazy Thursday afternoon.

It’s encouraging to know, however, that the useless plot scenes aren’t terrible, just perfunctory, and I certainly didn’t feel insulted the way I do through many attempts action movies make at stuff like dramatization and character and motivation. (Yuck.) This isn’t one of those instances where I was given a movie that so thoroughly introduced me to Li’s particular style of facekicking and dickpunching that it blinded me from the awfulness of the sequences that lacked the facekicking and the dickpunching. In other words, this isn’t like when, when I was 13, the United States finally decided to dub Jackie Chan’s films and open them wide across the country, and for a good ten years, he was considered a major stateside movie attraction. Do you remember what his first real crossover hit was? Rumble in the Bronx. My 13-year-old self loved the hell out of that movie, and my friend and I left the theatre making “HWAH!” martial arts sounds, basically because we hadn’t seen anything like it before on the big screen. Watch Rumble in the Bronx now. I dare you. It’s a piece of shit.

Kiss of the Dragon takes itself seriously enough that your time doesn’t feel wasted and your maturity doesn’t seem offended, but, like most of Luc Besson’s canon as an action film producer, you’ll like what you see but will forget the plot almost immediately, and all you’ll be left with is images of Jet Li kicking faces and punching dicks.

Free-Floating Thoughts

The opening shot is a bunch of cute bunnies, then a dead bunny amongst them! Luc Besson wants you to believe in metaphors!

Oh boy, from the director of Blood: The Last Vampire. Ugh.

I like that screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, he of the Karate Kid films, has a career now that is basically threefold. 1. Listen to Luc Besson’s hyperactive and very French ideas about martial arts and guns and fast cars and blowing shit up, all set in very expensive parts of Europe. 2. Put a valid story structure around his nonsense. 3. Receive money. Kamen has gone through this process seven times so far, and he must be a very wealthy man for doing so.

2001 alert: Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass” on the soundtrack.

I didn’t really realize until now that this was Bridget Fonda’s last real movie. She did one indie, the Chris Isaak Show, and a TV movie, then disappeared. Basically, she married Danny Elfman, had a kid, and hasn’t really been heard from since. As a major fan of Singles, Jackie Brown, and Doc Hollywood, this is just another reminder that I’m older than I think I am, and that the 90s are but a memory.

So, Jet Li’s character is skilled in the martial art of…acupuncture?

At this point in the post-Matrix action film world, I, along with many others, were already starting to get sick of wirework, and so this 2001 film appealed to me because the pre-release hype boiled down to, “Hey, we’re an awesome action movie with actual, physical action and not all that CG crap.” IMDb informs me that there’s only one CG sequence (the fire in the laundry chute) and two instances of wirework. This is basically what I’m as of now calling a Retronym Movie, where doing things as they would in filmmaking past (instead of using newfangled computer trickery) suddenly becomes a selling point in and of itself, that it makes the film somehow more pure. (Retronym, as in the creation of terms like “brick-and-mortar store” or “analogue” or “live music” to differentiate them from newer versions like “online store,” “digital” or, simply, “music.”)

Fonda: Can I use your toilet?
Li: NO!!!!!

There are a surprising number of hookers in Luc Besson’s oeuvre. What gives?

2001 alert: Jet Li beats some goons down with a Razor scooter.

I like that the MacGuffin is an actual, well-sized videocassette and not, as it probably would be a few years later, a flash drive. The smaller MacGuffins tend to get, the less I seem to care, as if I’m meant to give a shit about a tiny, thumb-sized rectangle, probably with a keychain at one end.

Fellow Moviewatching Friend Matt: [paraphrased] If, at the hotel, Li was examining the hotel attack surveillance footage so closely, why doesn’t Li recognize Fonda as the hooker from the hotel?
Me: I dunno. Maybe he’s a racist, and all white people look alike to him.
Matt: Asshole.
[the real answer: She had on a red wig at the time…?)

Did anybody (director, producer, etc.) find it vaguely racist that, while most of the action sequences are scored by the composer like regular action sequences, the moment a black, muscular goon shows up the soundtrack starts playing N.E.R.D.’s “Lapdance”?

Fonda: Walking hurts my feet!

Li: I don’t sell shrimp chips!

“Emoting toward the balcony, Fonda’s character seems to have wandered in from a Cassavetes film; her scenes with the tight-lipped Li are an interesting study in incompatible acting styles.” Review from the A.V. Club

There’s a point in one action sequence where Li is hitting people with batons so quickly that it simply sounds like the foley editor is simply holding down the sound fx button labeled “Smack.”

I didn’t remember too many specifics about most of the action sequences from this movie, save for the climactic office battle between Li and the two blond twins. And now I understand why; the sequence in question is baaaaaaaalleeeeeeeeerrrrr!