From the Archive – Kiss of the Dragon (2001)



“Kiss Fear Goodbye”

Directed by Chris Nahon
Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tchéky Karyo

Lui Jian (Li) is sent to France by the Chinese Secret Service – or something – to assist with a drugs bust by psychotic Sureté detective, Inspector Richard (Karyo) and the gaggle of psychopathic-yet-Clouseauesque incompetents who masquerade as his narcotics squad. But when the dealer goes upstairs with a couple of hookers and one of them stabs him repeatedly with a hair pin, it all goes to hell; and I do mean the movie.

It rapidly emerges that Richard set up the hit, and that he is a pimp and a pusher as well as a thug. He might in fact be the French connection that Lui Jian was sent to catch, but I’m not completely sure. What is certain is that he is a bad-un – shooting his own indiscrete hit-hooker and one of his goons just to prove his evilness – and that his goons are entirely useless, failing to apprehend or kill Jian despite numerical superiority, advantage of firepower, and the equal griplessness of Jian’s Chinese Secret Service bosses.

Jian escapes using his knowledge of kung fu and acupuncture, and More or less by chance, befriends the second hooker from the hotel, the drippy Jessica (Fonda), who only works for Richard because he’s got her daughter. After rescuing her from Richard’s unter-pimps – who do however manage to kill his contact in France, the hapless Uncle Tai (Burt Kwouk) – Jian learns who she is, and she helps him get the evidence he needs, in exchange for which he storms the police headquarters, and rescues her daughter.

Oh, and the Kiss of the Dragon is a forbidden acupuncture point, at the back of the neck, which paralyses the victim – in this case, Richard – and brings on a swift and especially bloody death.

What’s wrong with it?

Kiss of the Dragon is another of that rare and unforgivable breed; a really boring kung fu action movie. The actual action scenes are quite good, and avoid the slapstick trap nicely enough, but they are too few and far between – or maybe they just felt that way – and besides, with the rank incompetence of the enemy, Lui Jian just looks like a bully for beating up on them.

Almost none of the characters are sympathetic, or even interesting in their unlovely scummishness. Richard is an agglomeration of the viler traits of every character Karyo has ever played, to the point of mirthless caricature. Jessica is essentially just dull and drippy, and even Lui Jian fails to evoke any real sympathy. The only likeable character in the film is Uncle Tai, who mourns that none of the young agents sent to his safehouse have ever gone home alive before being shot dead. There’s really only one reason to like the hero, and that’s because the villain is so utterly vile.

The foreshadowing is pretty lumpen. Prior to killing the drug baron, the coked up hit-hooker repeatedly asks ‘do you want to go to heaven?’; like anyone doesn’t know what’s coming. Then Richard actually has the gall to point this out to the short of attention span.

What’s right with it?

There’s a few decent fight scenes, and dull bully or not, Li is pretty cool. That’s about it really.

How bad is it really?

Pretty tedious, and in a kung fu movie, that’s a poor showing.

Best bit?

One of the contacts in Jian’s incredibly complex chain of connections before meeting Richard is an absurdly British airline pilot. As Jian flees the goon squads, said pilot spots him, whips a pair of laser targeted Uzis out of nowhere and starts blasting away. It’s kind of a laugh.

What’s up with…?

  • The absurd secret agent routine involved in getting Jian to meet up with Richard? These are the narcotics squad, not spies.
  • The unutterable crapness of everyone involved in Richard’s operations? He can’t even contract a proper hit.


Production values – Fair to middling. There’s no crazy wuxia, and the film is probably the better for it, but while adequately shot, there’s nothing special about this movie. 8

Dialogue and performances – An ensemble of fairly competent actors fail to breathe life into the cavalcade of caricatures who populate this movie, with the result that we never actually give a shit about any of them. On the other hand, the dialogue never sinks to the point of being memorably bad. 15

Plot and execution – Pretty leaden, and especially disappointing given some of writer Luc Besson’s other work. The whole middle section is a nothing, and the plot picks up again only by pure chance (c.f. Randomness). The direction is no more than competent, and fails to bring a sparkle to the material. 14

Randomness – Pimp-pusher cops using their hookers as impromptu – and fairly incompetent – hit women. Acupuncturist kung-fu cops. A plot that holds together only because of coincidence. Plus a couple of moments that make no sense (Richard shows the Chinese police liaison what he claims is footage of Jian killing one of his compatriots, but we don’t see the tape, and we know he never did this). Nothing outright insane, but a perpetual air of hysteria. 13

Wast of potential – A kung fu movie written by Luc Besson, starring Jet Li and set in Paris. This could have been Leon with higher kicks; instead it was Le Samourai without the laughs. 18

Overall 68%


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