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The Movie Industry Eats Its Young
Kiss of the Dragon (video)
written by Luc Besson
starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda
Movie-making is an incestuous business; here we have Chinese martial-arts star Jet Li starring in a film written by Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita and Leon [aka The Professional] and The Fifth Element), featuring Tcheky Karyo (La Femme Nikita) and Brigitte Fonda (Point of No Return [aka Remake Without a Point]), the American trivialization of La Femme Nikita.  And it looks a lot like something Sergio Leone might have made.

Except that Sergio would do it better.

Unfortunately, it's less than the best for everyone, except possibly Fonda, who seems to be improving somewhat in her art as time goes on.

The basic story is a classic -- one might say a cliche as easily -- the honest cop from out of town framed by the crooked cop (who then spends the rest of the film trying to kill him). Jackie Chan [or even Terence Hill] has done basically the same story several times over, usually better, though generally not with the hard-edged violence we see here.

One of my problems with action films these days is that the really hard stunts tend to contain large chunks of CGI -- the final carjump in the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, which was simply impossible to do with real cars -- and, even when they don't, we assume they do. There's none of the air of "Oh, gosh! How the *&$%* did they do *that*?" or "Wow! That's incredible!" that, say, the Terminator jumping the Harley off the embankment into the Flood Control channel or the car just missing both of the falling chimneys in Hooper or the final car stunt in the original Gone in 60 Seconds engenders, since you know that there isn't any CGI involved there, somehow real stuntmen did real stunts that look spectacularly impossible. ((Well, actually, there *is* CGI in the Terminator 2 Harley jump; the stuntman and bike were rigged on cables and treated as a puppet on a crane and CGI was used to paint out the cables. But that could have been accomplished other ways.))

And there's some of that here; one reviewer says that he's glad there isn't too much wire work, and i have to agree -- but, watching the extras on this DVD, i discover that the niftiest stunt -- the one that inspired the graphic design of the DVD itself -- is a combination of wire work and CGI, which disappoints me. In one of his films from the 70's, Terence Hill grabs a number of balls off a pool table, and juggles them, while flipping them one by one back-hand at various Bad Guys' heads. The balls Hill juggled weren't CGI and he had to make them go where he wanted them to, instead of making motions that the CGI crew could later line up balls to.

Which is not to take anything away from Jet Li -- the man's speed, precision and ahtleticism are incredible. The scene in which he simultaneously fights -- and defeats -- three black belts using batons has to be seen to be believed, and some of his other work is equally breathtaking.

Bridget Fonda as the Hooker Who Knows Something is adequate; much better than she was in Point of No Return, the only other film i can recall seeing her in. Her byplay with a piece of steampipe is a neat visual gag.

Tcheky Karyo makes sure that every piece of scenery he comes near is well-adorned with toothmarks as the evil crooked drug-dealing French cop -- sort of like the DEA agent played by Gary Oldman in "Leon", but not as charming. His demise is appropriately gross by this film's standards.

Besson's script doesn't go for the same sort of issues as he did with Nikita or Leon, though he does cast a brief eye on the plight of the prostitute in modern Paris (though i suspect he exaggerates at least a bit).

The direction, cinematography and editing are competent and quick-enough-moving to work, with occasional neat little grace notes -- the injured Li, having temporarily escaped his enemies, collapses against the wall of a subway car, his head falling to one side -- and we immediately cross-cut to a bust of the Virgin, head tilted at the same angle, similar expression of weariness and suffering on her features. Later, he bursts into the apparently-abandoned Emergency Room at a small hospital, carrying the wounded Fonda; for just a moment after he kicks open the swingong doors, they stand, she lieing in his arms in almost exactly the pose of the "Pieta", until he screams "Somebody help me!" and suddenly we jump-cut to a veritable horde of doctors and nurses and attendants rushing the injured girl into surgery and working on her, in a very effective transition.

I didn't particularly like the rap/hiphop soundtrack.

All in all a decent thriller to enjoy when there's not a Nikita or a Leon or a Once Upon a Time in the West on cable this week...

(Incidentally, keep a close eye on the telephone on the wall in the hotel laundry during the end of the laundry-chute sequence)