Brutal, blood-drenched and viciously entertaining, Kiss Of The Dragon is a stripped-down speed machine of an action movie. Anything that might slow the ruthless rock'n'roll action - - like dialogue, plotting, in-depth characterisation - - is mercilessly pared away until only the bare minimum is left. It's a film that exists purely to deliver fight sequence after fight sequence, giving the audience as little breathing time between bouts of Far Eastern fisticuffs as possible. The result isn't pretty, but boy is it effective...
Opening with a spectacular running escape from a baddie-filled hotel (the money shot? Lee taking down a gunman by flipping a billiard ball into the air and drop-kicking it across the room into his mush), Kiss Of The Dragon is the perfect showcase for Jet Li's skills. His first English-speaking lead role in Romeo Must Die really asked too much of him as an actor and never quite enough of him as a death-dealing machine. With a triple role as producer, story originator and actor here, he's made sure that his thesping skills are never stretched (he coasts by on his two standard facial expressions: bewildered child and empty-eyed killer) while dropping him into the midst of as many varied punch-ups as possible.
Li fights on the run, he fights standing still. He fights in shops, in hotels and even on a tourist boat. He takes on one, two, three or a dozen bad guys at once. If there are weapons around, he'll pick them up and do something nasty with them. If there aren't, then bits of furniture or his bare hands will do. He's saddled with one duff gimmick - a supply of acupuncture needles he uses to paralyse or knock out opponents - but even those have a part to play in the not-for-people-with-weak-stomachs ending, featuring one of the slowest and most grisly deaths ever slapped up on the big screen.
As mentioned before, the script isn't exactly up to much. The fight count may be off the scale but KOTD barely manages to get into single figures on the pithy quip-o-meter - you have to wonder what exactly Luc Besson did to earn his scriptwriter credit. Presumably Besson's involvement didn't hurt, though, when it came to persuading his Nikita actor Tcheky Karyo to take part. Always good value for money, he's on fine psychopathic form here, spitting out dialogue and lumps of well-chewed scenery in equal measure. Fonda's not at all bad either as Li's bedraggled prostitute sidekick, though most of the storytelling imagination has gone into explaining just what this middle-American gal is doing as a streetwalker in Paris...
The weak of stomach should turn away now...Kiss Of The Dragon doesn't do smart, it doesn't do subtle and it certainly doesn't do gentle. What it does do is vicious, fast-paced, bloody mayhem - and it does that very well indeed.