Without wires or cheap CG, the fights in Kiss of the Dragon carry a high impact, brutal feel. It saves the rather mundane story from a pit of generic plot points, and lifts the film above other recent martial arts extravaganzas. It’s enjoyable when it delivers on its promises.
A sub-standard revenge script is the basis for this Jet Li action piece set in France. Framed for murder in a confusing opening, Li begins running through the streets looking for a way to clear his name. As expected, he’s caught, but fights his way out using some impressive stunt work and choreography.
A booming, aggravating soundtrack sits behind many of the fights and takes away from their intensity. The mix doesn’t work between the music and the action. Still, the speed at which the punches fly is enough to hold the audience's attention. When guns are brought into the mix, there are countless missed opportunities to kill the shooter’s target, yet somehow the hero always escapes. It’s frustrating by the third act that no one seems to have any sense to aim, even up close.
Bridget Fonda plays an unwilling prostitute stuck in the middle of this mess. Her daughter is kidnapped by the same man that has framed Li, and through a series of convenient meetings, they team together towards the same goal. The relationship between them can never happen and both know it, creating an interesting dynamic to the characters.
While much of it is standard fare, there’s enough of what the audience came to see to make this an enjoyable if heavily flawed ride. It does tend to drag, and the action set pieces are spaced too far apart, but the down time is easily forgettable when things pick up. This is a solid if forgettable effort compared to Jet Li’s other American-made attempts to date.
As one of the earliest Blu-ray releases, Kiss of the Dragon should have delivered. This is a muted, flat presentation. Colors are dulled, and black levels are sub-par. Dark scenes appear muddy and lacking detail. In higher light, close-ups reveal wonderful facial details, and the flesh tones head into the reds too far. The overall look is soft, and minor grain is noticeable throughout.
The soundtrack delivers on low end, providing great punch to drive the action, even if the music itself drowns out the rest of the audio. A few explosions do produce a solid punch when needed. The surrounds are hard to make out during the fights due to the grating music. There is some subtle noticeable rear speaker usage during scenes like those on the subway. Still, like the video, it’s a flat, dull presentation that could have been more.
A commentary from first-time director Chris Nahon, Jet Li, and Bridget Fonda serves as the only extra aside from trailers.
As a change of pace due to negative reaction after Jet Li’s prior Romeo Must Die, only seven wire shots are used in the movie, and only two stand out as obvious. One CG assisted shot is also used when Li kicks the pool ball to knock out a foe. It works greatly in the film’s favor.