Kiss of the Dragon (2001) is a recommended movie to watch for those wanting to see an easily satisfying action film. This is one that has a Chinese-sounding title and an English script, produced by great French action movie makers, which doesn’t try to be everything in the movie industry. And that is exactly the reason why this is a win.
The story is simple. A police officer with an impressive track record named Liu Jian (Jet Li) is sent to Paris and goes undercover to assist the French police in identifying the local connection of a Chinese drug lord. This should bust the illegal operations happening in Paris. However, Liu Jian – more referred to as Johnny in the movie – discovers that this mysterious person of interest is not as clueless as Johnny expects him to be, and that this is not a simple police case.
Some have described the plot as hard to follow, pesky and incomprehensible. And while it is true that it doesn’t tell the audience what the film is all about for a good ten minutes or so, it does keep the audience interested and engaged with its action. The key to understanding this flick is to simply give attention.
The straightforward motive is divulged through a rather quick dialogue that doesn’t even spoon feed everything to its audience. This is what’s great about the movie – disclosure doesn’t happen over a dramatic scene and it doesn’t desperately try to be interesting by keeping details up until the last minute. Moreover, it doesn’t insult audience intellect as most are left for deductive reasoning. There is a scene where Johnny informs his colleague of his discovery, but as an audience, you should have known that by that time.
Yes, the whole plot could not be labelled as polished. There are aspects that don’t entirely make sense even after finishing the movie. For one, why was Johnny acting like he is an illegal person in the foreign country with all the discreet messages and instructions given to him? Does it illustrate how countries doubt each other’s motives even after both have declared alliance? But trying to come up with an explanation for it would be over analyzing and would kill the fun. Besides, those vagueness could be considered minor plot holes since it doesn’t greatly affect more so ruin the movie.
It is also worthy of admiration that the writers did not force a full-blown romantic side to it which we usually find in Hollywood movies. It demonstrates how an action genre can stand on its own. Though there are subtle moments of a commencing love story, it was kept to that level which is enough for providing an emotional element. It seems to be added just for a bit of variety, keeping the audience from getting bored.
The casting and acting from most of them are a thumbs-up. Jet Li is able to keep a good balance of charm and fierceness that an audience looks for in an action hero. One minute he looks like an adorable kid and the next minute he is a merciless fighter. The character also fits Li’s image that looks better being awkward with women than being a confident romantic.
Tcheky Karyo – Richard – also did an equally satisfying job being the antagonist in the story, effectively giving off a sinister aura.
Kentaro Matsuo who portrayed Chen, a Chinese official, is an actor to remember in this movie albeit his minor role and relatively short exposure. His character played a quite significant role in making the audience understand the big picture, and Matsuo delivered well.
Bridget Fonda’s performance as an American prostitute named Jessica Kamen, however, was both a plus and a minus point for the movie. The acting was good, but a fairly good number of scenes show delivery coming off as awkward wherein the audience might question what is wrong. Is it the script or the delivery itself?
Now since the plot is plain and doesn’t have any mystery to keep until the end of its 100 minutes, the thrill is left to the action. Its fight scenes are great with Jet Li’s expertise in this genre – although it does have its fair share of absurdity. Nevertheless, one can see here the elegant and quick Jet Li moves which made him one of the best in the industry.
But this movie could not have been one of the better action movies if not for Luc Besson who co-wrote and produced it. The film contains some heart-stopping sequences where one would fail to notice the rather obviously questionable details happening around them. For instance: the all-out shooting of the henchmen in hotels and boats. Whether you are the good guy or the bad guy, you wouldn’t want to draw that much attention to the public, right? And why is it that nobody seems to call the authorities – that no third party ever tried to interfere to stop the commotion in these public places? But then again, these inconsistencies are covered up by the wonderful action presented.
What a lot of action lovers would also find appealing here is the brutality. Several cringe-worthy shots are in store for those craving for some intense action and killing. The best scene, where this motion picture also cleverly gets its title, is the very last scene. Richard shoots Johnny in his right side of the chest, but Johnny manages to puncture Richard with an acupuncture needle on his nape. Suddenly he couldn’t move a muscle. Johnny explains to him what he just did, and what would happen to Richard later on. This scene leaves nothing to imagination, and is one if not the most gruesome death to happen in an action movie. No somersaults, high kicks, nor chest-crushing punches but definitely the best endings there is!
This Jet Li movie is a little breather from action movie clichés, and one that truly suits the actor’s personality.
If you want to see a good, entertaining action movie, just enjoy this!