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Director: Chris Nahon
Cast: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo, Ric Young, Burt Kwouk, Laurence Ashley
Screenplay: Luc Besson, story by Jet Li

Tagline: Kiss Fear Goodbye
Box Office: Budget $25 million. Opening weekend $13.304 million on 2025 screens. Domestic gross $36.833 million.
MPAA: Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality and drug content.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 1/22/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Chris Nahon and Actors Jet Li and Bridget Fonda
• Jet Li Featurette
• Fight Choreographer Cory Yuen Featurette
• Martial Arts Demos
• Storyboard to Film Comparison
• Storyboard Sequence
• On the Set Action Featurette
• Production Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer
• Photo Gallery
• TV Spots


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Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Wasnít Jet Li supposed to be a superstar in America by now? After his breakout performance in 1998ís Lethal Weapon 4, he appeared to be on the fast track for Hollywood success. Alas, this has not yet occurred. His American releases have mainly featured dubbed versions of Asian epics such as Black Mask or The Legend. Since Weapon 4, heís only made three original English language flicks: 2000ís Romeo Must Die and 2001ís The One and Kiss of the Dragon.

I havenít see The One, but the other two didnít impress me. Romeo tried to meld Asian martial arts with a hip-hop feel , but in the end, it provided nothing more than a very standard action flick with nothing special about it.

Dragon doesnít attempt to be anything particularly different, and thatís good, for itís just another ordinary action movie. Actually, in a bizarre way, it will provoke thoughts of a much better flick, 1990ís La Femme Nikita. The two donít share similar storylines or anything of the sort, but they have similar tones. In addition, they both featured Tcheky Karyo in prominent roles and came from Luc Besson; the latter directed Nikita, while he performs co-writer/co-producer duties here. Heck, Dragon costar Bridget Fonda even acted in 1994ís Point of No Return, the American remake of Nikita!

Unfortunately, these connections are where most of the similarities between Dragon and Nikita end. The latter wasnít Bessonís best film, but it offered a fairly lively and compelling action experience. As for Dragon, it seems much more mediocre. He may share Bessonís French heritage, but the first-time director doesnít seem to have the more experienced manís same levels of flair and story-telling skills.

Dragon follows the adventures of Chinese officer Liu Jian (Li) as he comes to France to cooperate on a case with the Parisian police, led by Inspector Richard (Karyo). However, they have other plans; instead of apprehending a suspect, they kill him and frame Liu. He escapes and conveniently grabs an incriminating videotape, and Richardís men try to find and eliminate Liu.

Most of the movie follows those attempts, and we also get involved with another witness to the event, junkie prostitute Jessica (Fonda). Richard holds her daughter and keeps her drugged to make her pliable. Through some unlikely circumstances, Jessica and Liu get to know each other and try to aid both their quests.

All of this seems pretty tired. Thereís nothing in the filmís story to make it stand out from the crowd. However, I donít really fault movies to a great degree just because of bland plots; lots of flicks feature ordinary stories but do wonders with the material.

Unfortunately, Dragon doesnít fall into that category. For the most part, it just seems like yet another by-the-numbers action flick. The French setting is unusual, but Nahon really doesnít do much with it to make the locale unique or involving. In addition, he tends to ruin many of the fight sequences with excessive cutting.

As such, we have a Jet Li flick in which we rarely get a good sense for Liís talents. Instead, the film seems so choppy that anyone could have done much of the work. For this kind of picture, itís important to get a good sense of the performer and see many shots that linger for longer than, say, an eighth of a second. Nahon apparently thinks that the rapid cuts will increase the level of excitement. Heís wrong. Instead, they dissipate a lot of the natural energy that otherwise could have occurred.

In addition, the film features some excessively gruesome sequences. I have no problem with gore when appropriate, but at times, it seems as though the movie offers blood simply for the sake of blood. Actually, that may not be totally true. I get the feeling that Nahon thinks graphic violence equals ďrealismĒ or ďgrittinessĒ, whereas thatís not the case. In this instance, it simply feels like an easy tool to provoke a response from the audience.

Possibly my biggest complaint about Dragon, however, stems from its poor use of Li. Though Iíve only seen a few of his flicks, his physical presence has always impressed me. Heís not much of an actor, at least not in the English-language offerings; he comes across as quite flat and one-dimensional in scenes that donít require action. Nonetheless, his martial arts skills usually redeem his lack of talent as a thespian.

That doesnít occur during Dragon. To be sure, the action scenes are the most compelling ones in the movie, but thatís more of a reflection on the bland quality of the rest of it. Nahon doesnít appear to know the best way to feature his star, which is why we find that awkward and choppy editing that badly mars the action sequences. As such, Li comes across poorly; after a viewing of Dragon, I found it hard to remember why he made such a strong impression on me in earlier efforts.

On the positive side, Fonda offers a surprisingly rich and strong performance as Jessica. She seems to inhabit the role well, as she makes Jessica appear appropriately battered and bruised emotionally and physically. Fonda provides the one real piece of positive work in this otherwise muddled affair.

Unfortunately, itís not enough to redeem Kiss of the Dragon. The movie came and went quickly during its theatrical release, and for good reason - itís a bland, uninventive and thoroughly mediocre film. Almost nothing about it stood out to me as particularly compelling, and I felt as if Iíd seen it all before - many, many times before, in fact.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B+ / Bonus B-

Kiss of the Dragon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture looked fairly good, but it betrayed a few more concerns than Iíd expect from such a recent film.

Sharpness consistently seemed good. A few wider shots appeared slightly soft, but these were very rare. As a whole, the picture remained crisp and distinct throughout the film. Jagged edges and moirť effects caused no concerns, but I did detect some light edge enhancement at times. Print flaws werenít a major issue, but they seemed a little too prominent for such a recent film. A little grain appeared, but the main problem stemmed from white speckles. These never came across as heavy, but I found them to occur too frequently.

Dragon offered a fairly cool and subdued palette that the DVD reproduced well. Very few bright or vivid colors appeared during the movie; probably Fondaís red jacket stood out as the boldest hue we saw on a consistent basis. Nonetheless, the image presented the tones with good accuracy and clarity. Black levels came across as reasonably deep and rich, but low-light sequences were slightly murky; they seemed a bit too thick and bland at times. Overall, Kiss of the Dragon offered a positive visual experience, but it wasnít great for a recent flick.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Kiss of the Dragon seemed somewhat superior, but it also wasnít among the best of the current era. The soundfield appeared fairly active throughout the film. The mix featured very frequent use of all five channels, and it often came across as lively and engaging. The effects received the best usage, as they displayed good activity from all sides. However, I thought the soundfield often felt excessively ďspeaker specificĒ, as the elements seemed to come from spots that were too easily distinguished. They blended together a little awkwardly and didnít pan terribly smoothly. To be sure, the movement wasnít poor, but it didnít sound as natural as Iíd expect. Frankly, the track came across as mildly gimmicky at times; it didnít always present a very realistic setting.

Audio quality seemed good as a whole. Dialogue appeared natural and warm, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music was robust and distinct. The movie combined a variety of different musical genres, but all came across as clear and vibrant, and they showed nice depth when appropriate. Effects also demonstrated solid accuracy. Those elements were clean and vivid, and they packed a good bass punch at times. Overall, much of the soundtrack for Kiss of the Dragon worked very well, but it simply didnít quite make it to ďAĒ level.

This release of Kiss of the Dragon doesnít quite compare to more elaborate Fox packages like The Phantom Menace or Planet of the Apes, but it packs some reasonable extras nonetheless. First up is an audio commentary from director Chris Nahon and actors Jet Li and Bridget Fonda. Each of the three was recorded separately for this edited, periodically screen-specific track. While I didnít think it was a great commentary, it offered enough interesting material to keep me going.

Nahonís segments seemed the least compelling. He tended to discuss technical aspects of the filmmaking process, and he didnít offer much that appeared unique or terribly fascinating. On the other hand, Li provided some good anecdotes and gave us a different perspective on the process, while Fonda seemed very solid as she featured surprising insight into her character and acting in general. Probably the biggest hurdle found in the commentary relates to the accents of Li and Nahon, which made the piece slightly rough sailing at times. However, that wasnít a major concern, and overall, this commentary appeared fairly interesting.

In regard to the rest of the extras, we find a lot of material, but much of it seems fairly insubstantial. The first of many featurettes, Jet Li: Fighting Philosophy, offers a pretty dull program. The 11-minute and 25-second piece shows some decent behind the scenes footage mixed with movie clips, and we also get interviews from Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo, and director Nahon. While Li offers some moderately interesting information about his training and experience, for the most part this featurette exists to tell us how terrific Li is. As such, itís not terribly useful.

Much better is Cory Yuen: Action Academy. This eight-minute piece uses the same mix of shots from the set, film snippets and interviews as ďPhilosophyĒ, but in the latter category, it includes only one participant: fight choreographer Yuen. He offers some details about his training and gives us quite a lot of good information about his preparation for a film and the work he does for the flicks. Itís a surprisingly compelling and worthwhile little piece.

Also solid is Police Gymnasium Fight: Martial Arts Demo. This splits into three areas. You can watch the final scene from the film, or you can watch ďDemo OneĒ, which runs 68 seconds, and ďDemo TwoĒ, which lasts 63 seconds. Each of the latter shows Yuen and some stunt performers as they block parts of the big gym battle. Itís very interesting to see the small bits come together, and I enjoyed this segment.

On the Set Action is a moderately compelling little piece. The 126-second program simply combines finished film shots with corresponding behind the scenes footage from the set. Itís cut too choppily to be terribly useful, but itís kind of cool nonetheless.

Some storyboard materials appear next. The Storyboard to Scene Comparison looks at the ďLaundry ChuteĒ bit. You can watch the boards alone, the film on its own, or the two combined; the boards run on top and the film on the bottom for the 141-second split screen piece. We also get a Storyboard Sequence for ďThe OrphanageĒ. It appears as a running presentations that lasts three minutes, 10 seconds. Both are decent pieces for those who like storyboards, but they did little for me.

Next we find the generically named Featurette. This tosses in a couple of decent behind the scenes shots, but itís nothing we havenít already seen elsewhere on the DVD. Otherwise, the four-minute and 20-second clip just shows us lots of film snippets and bland interview segments from Li, Fonda and Karyo, all of which are designed to tout the film. Itís purely promotional and utterly skippable.

The Action Gallery Production Stills offers a running display of photos. We see some posters, promotional shots, and candid images in this moderately interesting five and a half minute compilation.

The remainder of the extras fall into the promotional realm. We get the theatrical trailer for Dragon as well as ads for Behind Enemy Lines and Planet of the Apes. The DVD presents all in 1.85:1 nonanamorphic transfers with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A collection of six TV spots also appears.

At least one Easter egg shows up on the DVD as well. Go to the ďPolice Gymnasium Fight: Martial Arts DemoĒ page and highlight ďSpecial FeaturesĒ. Click ďupĒ and youíll highlight a dragon symbol on Liís shirt. Hit ďenterĒ and youíll get to see an international trailer for the film. It ainít much, but itís there.

That statement neatly encapsulates my thoughts about Kiss of the Dragon itself. The movie seems rather flat and uninvolving. I canít call it genuinely bad, but it never threatened to become anything very exciting or entertaining; itís a very pedestrian flick. The DVD offers fairly good picture and sound plus a decent but unspectacular roster of extras. Jet Li aficionados will probably want to give it a look, but those not already enamored of his work should skip it, as I doubt Dragon will earn him many new fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6056 Stars Number of Votes: 71
4 3:
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