Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
Directed by Chris Nahon

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * *

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A Chinese policeman, Liu Jian (Jet Li), arrives in Paris to assist in the investigation of a drug smuggling ring involving suspects from China and France. There he discovers that his French counterpart, Jean-Pierre Richard (Tchéky Karyo), is a corrupt psychopath. After Richard has murdered the Chinese suspect, he attempts to kill Jian. Fortunately, however, Jian escapes with a videotape of the Frenchman's crimes and, subsequently, fights frantically to stay alive and to deliver the tape to his own superiors.

Kiss of the Dragon is a frenetic, violent film, which is hardly surprising given that the screenplay was written by Luc Besson, which also accounts for the narrative's frequent lack of structure or logic.


In fact, the movie presents the viewer with a world of wildly excessive brutality, in which shockingly horrific events can occur without producing any effects other than propelling the central narrative. A villain who is keen on keeping his identity a secret can commit acts of savagery in a busy restaurant without risk of exposure. A sumptuous hotel can be made into the scene of a mass killing without fear of anyone investigating the matter. A Chinese police officer and numerous diners can be butchered on a restaurant barge without the police initiating a manhunt for the perpetrators. Every officer in a very large police station can secretly be a member of a criminal organization without anyone suspecting it, and so on and so on.


If the viewer can abandon concerns about the film's disconnect from the realities of ordinary life and submerge himself in Besson's world, watching Kiss of the Dragon can be an enjoyable even exhilarating experience. The extremely violent and stylized action sequences, for example, are consistently entertaining, and they make up a large portion of the film. While there are times when the director relies on hackneyed techniques and devices, most of the sequences are successfully realized.


Sadly, the characters of Kiss of the Dragon are all, without exception, disposable, recycled creatures. Jet Li plays a dutiful police officer. Karyo plays an evil, murdering fiend. Bridget Fonda plays a sympathetic, down on her luck prostitute. All are dull and uninteresting and are portrayed with generally less than impressive acting. Fonda, in particular, is wooden, and her acting is frequently exaggerated and embarrassing.

Kiss of the Dragon is a deeply flawed movie, but it is also consistently exciting. While it has little more to offer other than its action sequences, these are sufficiently well done to keep the viewer engaged.

Review by Keith Allen

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