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IN SHORT: One for the guys. [Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality and drug content. 93 minutes]
For those readers who already have a good exposure to Hong Kong wushu martial arts action movies, feel free to call us a wussie. For everybody else, if you think of martial arts movies as the domain of Jackie Chan (who always leaves you smiling and humming on the way out of the theater), be warned that Kiss of the Dragon is deadly serious and becomes brutally violent by the time it hits its climax. The "R"rating is there for a reason and we (Cranky and several other critics) found ourselves talking like parents about how old our kids would have to be to "allowed" to see the movie. All the numbers centered around 16-17, just what the Rating means.
Deeper thinking makes it simple: we've become inured to bullets and explosions and remote-controlled death acts. Knives and swords are more unpleasant because of squirting blood but when push comes to shove, there is nothing that will make you squirm more than the sound of bones snapping. There are a lot of snapping bones in this flick, so you are warned. Because, other than the surprise of how quickly the violence escalated in the flick, we liked Kiss of the Dragon.
That being said, Kiss of the Dragon is a fugitive flick with balls. Liu Jiuan (Jet Li), perhaps the best Mainland Chinese cop ever, has been assigned to work with French detectives to uncover the Chinese French Connection and destroy the France to China heroin trade. The Inspector, Richard (Tchéky Karyo), jokes that he cannot pronounce the Chinese name and, derogatively, calls his new associate "Johnny." He also asks "Johnny" to turn in his gun. Thereafter, wired for sound and sent to do surveillance in a four star hotel, the Chinese suspect waits for the unknown French connection. While he waits, the suspect decides to avail himself of a "trip to heaven" offered by two prostitutes that approach him. One is an enthusiastic brunette. The other, a redhead, looks as if it's her first job. Seems on the verge of vomiting. While everyone in the eavesdropping suite rolls videotape to get all the hot action down for posterity, Red heads to the bathroom and the other pulls needles out of her Japanese styled hair and stabs the dealer in the heart. When all is said and done, and this means just one of many great battle scenes, both the dealer and the whore are dead, shot with "Johnny's" gun. The good cop is on the lam and the only survivor, the vomiting prostitute Jessica (Bridget Fonda) is put back on the street by her pimp.
"He was our absolute best man," says the Chinese counsel. "Well, sometimes the best is also the worst," says Richard, who may have been speaking of his own sideline businesses: prostitution, gun running, a suggestion of child abuse and al sorts of other good stuff, including the aforementioned drug smuggling. This is all first act revelation folks. No one in the know expects major surprises to be held for the end. What counts is a story solid enough to hang great fighting sequences upon. In this respect Kiss of the Dragon far exceeds expectations. To wit:
Jet is on his own in Paris, the bad police manage to take out all of his hidden support mechanisms with guns and firepower the size of which would make The Punisher proud. His secret hideaway is in the red-light district where one of the whores working the street is a rundown ex-junkie from North Dakota, in thrall to Richard who has her daughter in captivity. Her location, in front of the chip shop where jet is hiding, leads to a very tentative, and altogether unwanted acquaintance with the Chinaman Of course, this is Jessica, and neither she nor Jet has any idea who the other is. They will flee from the armory that is chasing them for a good half of the movie before they figure out what the heck is going on and who they really are. All action, little more than "Hi. We're in trouble. Let's run like hell" character development. That is what makes Kiss of the Dragon rock on all cylinders.
The action sequences are flat out killer (literally) hand to hand combat. No wires. No luscious slash poetic looking visual effects a la Crouching Dragon. Just a wrist band filled with acupuncture needles, all of which are put to good use in manners never before seen (at least by us). There's a distinct line in the sand in this film. You'll notice that Jet Li never instigates the fighting action. All he does is always in defense. That being said, his principle enemies, a pair of huge blonde punks, die particularly brutal deaths. More important than the fighting, by the time our heroes figure out how they truly fit together, Kiss of the Dragon offers up some touching moments. Nothing lovey dovey; Fonda's character is a resident of Hell and Jet has given his Word to redeem her and save her daughter. The man's word is his bond and if it leads to tons of broken glass, broken bones and the occasional surprise explosion, so be it.
Again, this is not for kidlets below the ratings code level. If they're insistent, parents, you see it first. We're serious. This is a fighting man's movie. That being the case, the lovely Bridget Fonda gets saddled with some of the worst dialog known to man. We've written before of chick flicks that guys should endure because their dates want to see 'em. It goes both ways.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Kiss of the Dragon, he would have paid . . .
If you've read our history and have wondered what that kind of neck breaking accident could look like, it happens in reverse (ground instead of pole) in this film. We, after a years long recuperation, walked away. The bad guys in this flick don't and director Chris Nahon lets his camera linger lovingly on their corpses before they fall over as with a thump.
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