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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"There is a time for diplomacy and a time for action. Diplomacy is dead."
DVD ReviewIn Kiss of the Dragon, Jet li plays the role of Johnny, one of China's top detectives. He's a martial arts master, of course, but he also likes to play around with paralyzing acupuncture needles. Johnny is sent to France to help the police deal with a Chinese drug smuggler. Surprise, surprise, however, when Inspector Richard (Karyo) turns out to be a smuggler himself. Richard murders the man Johnny was sent to investigate, and frames him for the crime. Johnny, apparently aware that he has fallen into the cliché pattern of an action picture, hides out at the home of a relative in France so he can conveniently meet the love interest, saintly hooker Jessica (Fonda), whose only wish is to rescue her daughter. This is the type of movie where everyone has a past, so of course, Jessica's pimp is Richard, and he threatens the life of her daughter if she doesn't keep working for him.
Action pictures are often long on action and short on story, but Kiss of the Dragon is worse than most. While the set-up is fine, there are too many subplots, ridiculous character moments, and predictable twists. Jessica's character is the real weak point—her past with Richard is explained haphazardly, and the "emotional" scenes with her daughter come out of nowhere, requiring much more audience interest in the characters than has been earned.
The script, from famed French director Luc Besson, is full of holes, but it moves along briskly enough, so they don't become a major problem. The same can't be said for the dialogue, which is heavy on exposition. There are two exasperating awful scenes with Jessica, where she gives big emotional speeches that are, I suppose, intended to provide character development, but all they really do is grind the plot to a halt.
That said, martial arts films exist for one reason: martial arts sequences, and Kiss of the Dragon features its fair share, as the plot exists only to string along complex and drawn out fights. Li takes most of the punishment, performing all his own stunts throughout, without the benefit of wires (thrust upon him unnecessarily in Romeo Must Die). The best scenes involve a chase through a hotel that culminates in a tense standoff in a laundry chute, and Li's battle with typically quirky Besson villains (twin brothers, each with a shock of yellow hair) amidst a roomful of sleeping orphans. Director Chris Nahon handles the action well, without too many quick cuts and close-ups.
Jet Li has, like Jackie Chan before him, successfully transitioned from Hong Kong martial arts superstar to highly paid Hollywood action actor. In recent years, he's had success with Lethal Weapon, Romeo Must Die, and The One—in all three cases, he's the best thing about the otherwise mediocre pictures. The same is true for this one, but at least he is really allowed to take center stage here. Li's fight sequences are incredibly frenetic, and he has amazing presence. This is the first time I've seen him really let loose in an American film. Bridget Fonda does what she can with her very poorly written character, but even a good performance can't make up for the slipshod writing. Karyo, looking quite a bit like Gerard Depardieu, fills the usual Besson role as the sneering, one-dimensional villain.
Before seeing the film, I found it odd that Besson didn't direct his own script. Perhaps he realized it wasn't worth his talents. Nahon manages to salvage things somewhat, crafting an incomprehensible screenplay into a fairly exciting action picture. Jet Li still hasn't made a good film in America, but at least, in Kiss of the Dragon, he reminds us why he was such a big star in the East.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: This is another wonderful transfer from Fox. Aside from a slight softness to the image, I have few complaints. Black level and shadow detail are strong. Colors look natural, and the cool color balance fits the tone of the film. Edge-enhancement isn't a problem. I noted no imperfections in the print, and just a spot of digital artifacting.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This disc features an impressive 5.1 track. The fight scenes really utilize the full soundfield, with the mains and surrounds contributing equally and a ton of LFE. Several scenes approach reference quality, including the opening gunfight (which features lots of impressive directional effects) and the restaurant fight (lots of LFE here). Quieter scenes sound fine as well, with dialogue always sounding clear and supported and the mains providing strong support for the score.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Behind Enemy Lines, Planet of the Apes (2001)
6 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Chris Nohan, actors Jet li and Bridget Fonda
Layers Switch: 00:43m:13s
The commentary track features director Chris Nahon, along with actors Jet Li and Bridget Fonda. The three were recorded separately, their comments edited together. Fonda and Li offer some on-set anecdotes and insights into their character motivations, as well as a bit of the story development. At times, sadly, they resort to pointing out the goingson on-screen. Chris Nahon offers more production stories, but his comments are of a technical nature, as he describes what shots feature special effects, and how certain scenes developed. Overall, it's a fair track. Rather dry, but fans of martial arts films will appreciate the insight into the material.
Next up is a series of featurettes. Jet Li: Fighting Philosophy is a 5-minute piece on the action legend that covers briefly how he got his start in movies and how he views films and the world. It's pretty fluffy material, and not presented all that well—it would've been better if clips from other Li films could've been included.
Cory Yuen: Action Academy covers the fight choreography from action director Cory Yuen. Yuen offers some interesting comments on his desire to create fight sequences that both look impressive on-screen and emerge naturally out of the fighting styles of the actors. Police Gymnasium Fight offers two brief clips of Yuen working on the impressive, dozen man gym fight. These are fairly short, but a look at the extensive preparation that these scenes require is worthwhile.
The final featurette is a typical 5-minute extended trailer featuring comments from the actors and director. While I'm sure someone somewhere appreciates the inclusion of these promo pieces on a DVD, I sure do not. I mean, these things make the HBO specials look in-depth.
Two storyboard sequences are included. "The Orphanage" is presented as a still gallery of storyboards, while "The Laundry Chute" offers either stills or a board to film comparison. There's an animated still gallery as well, which offers on-set photos and poster designs.
Rounding out the disc is a bevy of promotional material, including the theatrical trailer for Kiss of the Dragon, 6 TV spots, and the trailers for recent Fox releases Behind Enemy Lines and Planet of the Apes (2001). A second trailer for the feature is included as an Easter egg, accessible from the Police Gymnasium Fight menu screen (just click right from the option "Demo 2").
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsKiss of the Dragon doesn't offer much more than a few cool fight scenes. The screenplay is bland and incomprehensible, even for an action film. That said, some of the fight scenes are really cool. Recommended for Jet Li fans, but everyone else should try a rental first.
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