Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kiss of the Dragon

The Dragon Roars

by Rusty White

Director: Chris Nahon
Starring: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo
Length: 1 hour 40 minutes
Rated: R
Rating: 4 STARS

"Kiss of the Dragon" is a taut, action packed, brutal, gritty crime drama. It is also the best film I've seen this year. With an excellent storyline, incredible (and believable) fight sequences and an Oscar caliber performance by Bridget Fonda, "Kiss of the Dragon" is a powerhouse of entertainment. Do not miss this one.

To make a great film you have to start with a great script. Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's screenplay adapted from an original story by Jet Li tells the story of Lia Jian (Jet Li), a policeman from Beijing on assignment in France. The Chinese have discovered the Chinese side of the China to France heroin pipeline. The French have been informed of his identity in order to discover who the French connection is. Lia Jian has been sent to aid in the investigation. Inspector Richard (Tcheky Karyo) heads the investigation in Paris.

Lia meets Richard in the kitchen of the hotel where the Chinese drug dealer is staying. The bigoted French cop, tells Lia that he doesn't have time to learn some gook name, he will call Lia "Johnny" from now on. The surveillance begins. The drug dealer is waiting for his connection when a large thug and two prostitutes approach him The girls quickly divert the dealer to more earthy thoughts. One of the hookers, Jessica (Bridget Fonda) seems highly uncomfortable. He partner keeps trying to encourage her. The group go upstairs to the dealer's suite. While the enthusiastic hooker starts to entertain Mr. Big, Jessica runs to the bathroom and gets sick. In the next suite, Richard, Lia and the other cops watch on video screens as the hooker takes out spikes from her hair and starts to murder the dealer. Lia runs to the suite, fights his way through the dealer's bodyguards positioned in the hall and saves the dealer from further stab wounds. Richard follows. He puts on gloves, radios his men to turn off the surveillance tape and then kills the dealer and hooker with Lia's gun. Turns out that Richard is the French connection. And incredible fight ensues in which Lia escapes with the tape of Richard shooting the drug dealer. The remainder of the movie is a taut man-on-the-run film. Lia must get to the Chinese embassy with the tape before Richard's army gets to him. Through a turn of events Lia and Jessica meet up and must run together.

First time director Chris Nahon has put together an intelligent, exciting adult action drama. The innocent man wrongly accused theme is reminiscent of Hitchcock's work. I don't know if Nahon is a student of the master's work, but he keeps you on the edge of your seat. The film's pacing is relentless. Even though you know that the hero has to win in the end, you doubt very seriously that he will. That is an accomplishment in itself. This isn't the only thing Nahon has going for him. The fight sequences are expertly filmed. Of course it helped that Corey Yuen choreographed the fights. Nahon has taken the great martial arts talents of Jet Li and Mr. Yuen and filmed them expertly. The violence is brutal. The fights exhilarating. There is also a subtle element of humor in this film. Lia is an expert acupuncturist and uses the little needles in some very ingenious ways. One thing that stands out about all the action in this movie is that it is believable. There is none of the cartoon violence and superhuman feats found in so many action films today. I thought for a moment that the film was bout to make this mistake. In one scene, Lia enters a room full of police men practicing martial arts. He takes on the whole room and wins. Missing are the usual shots of people waiting in the wings to attack while the hero dispatches one or two opponents. These guys all attack at the same time. I've always felt that these type of scenes were hokey because no one could repel an onslaught of 20 attackers. Lia does. It is one of many amazing scenes.

The acting is superb. Jet Li brings a silent, moral dignity to the role of Lia Jian. Lia has never married. He is dedicated to his job. All of his being is focused on being a good policeman. I was reminded of Bruce Lee's performance in "Enter the Dragon." I almost feel like I'm committing blasphemy, but Jet Li surpasses Bruce Lee in the acting and fighting departments in this film. I went into this film with doubts as I've never really enjoyed Mr. Li's work before. I may have to revisit his other films. Tcheky Karyo (the French general from "The Patriot") is evil personified as Inspector Richard. He does not hesitate to shoot innocent bystanders, his own men or anyone else who gets between Lia and himself. When he menaces a small child with a gun you squirm wondering if he will pull the trigger. He is a powerful opponent for Lia. The film would fail without this monstrosity of evil to counterbalance Li's paragon of virtue.

The real surprise of "Kiss of the Dragon" is the Oscar caliber performance by an unrecognizable Bridget Fonda. Jessica is a farm girl from North Dakota who fell for a fast talking Frenchman. He impregnated her, took he to Paris and turned her out. Jessica's daughter is held captive at an orphanage by Richard. She does whatever degrading acts he commands for fear that her daughter will be killed. Ms. Fonda foregoes any makeup in this heart-wrenching performance. She looks as if she has been turning tricks for several years. The toil of shooting heroin and being abuse in horrible ways shows on her face. As with the other main characters, Jessica is well written and fully developed. Any you woman thinking about running away from home should see this performance. If Bridget Fonda isn't nominated for an Oscar for this performance I will boycott the Oscars.

"Kiss of the Dragon" is so much more than a martial arts movie. Maybe after the critical and artistic success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" the genre will be taken more seriously. This is a great movie. Not only is it a rousing action film perfect for the summer movie season, it is also a well written, intelligent adult crime drama.

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