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Kiss of the Dragon

If there's one major difference between American action films and those from Hong Kong, it's that American films tend to rely on firearms and explosions to create excitement, whereas HK movies highlight choreography and fighting skill — they are more akin to musicals than the latest Schwarzenegger shoot-em-up. But the call of American money often brings foreign stars and filmmakers stateside, and Jet Li was no exception, starring for Joel Silver in two U.S. productions: Lethal Weapon 4 and Romeo Must Die. And though both films tried to capture Li's mystique, they were a little too American to allow his physicality to truly come into play, relying more on special effects than Li's innate kung fu ability (perhaps due to insurance risks). For his third foreign production, 2001's Kiss of the Dragon, Li worked with Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) — collaborating on the screenplay with the celebrated French director and Robert Mark Kamen — and used his cinematographer Thierry Arboghast, but left helming duties to newcomer Chris Nahon (though HK master Cory Yuen was the fight choreographer). Li plays Liu Jian, a Chinese cop and master acupuncturist sent to Paris to help the French government with a case. But while on a stake-out, French inspector Jean-Pierre Richard (Tcheky Karyo) kills a suspect and pins the murder on Liu. Forced to hide out in the Paris ghettos, Liu makes the acquaintance of Jessica (Bridget Fonda), a prostitute who works for Richard, but only because he holds her daughter captive. Together the two plan their revenge. Plot is nearly meaningless to Kiss of the Dragon, which sets up some fairly stunning action sequences, that — unlike Li's previous non-HK efforts — require little digital trickery, letting Li's charisma show that he's on the level of Bruce Lee in both acting talents and kung-fu skills. If you watch the film for that and that alone, it's engaging — but there isn't much else. As an ex-heroin-junkie prostitute, Bridget Fonda seems desperately out of place, and incapable of giving a five-franc handjob to get her next score — her introduction grinds the film to a near deadly halt. Thankfully, the action not only is good, but nearly non-stop; the screenplay by Besson and Li cobble together familiar elements from their earlier films — particularly the wholehearted rip-off of Besson's previous crooked cop Norman Stansfield from The Professional. But though the film is not the revelation of kung fu one hopes from such a meeting of the minds, it is more than passable showcase of Li's impressive talents. Fox's DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround. Extras include an audio commentary by Nahon, Li and Fonda (recorded separately); featurettes focusing on Jet Li, action choreographer Cory Yuen, martial-arts demos, and a regular production featurette; storyboard-to-screen comparisons; and trailers and TV spots. Keep-case.

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