Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kiss of the Dragon

My martial arts movie marathon continues. I hadn't watched this movie in a long time, so I wanted to give it another chance. Unfortunately, as I remember, Kiss of the Dragon is a weak martial arts film despite some sweet fights. The problem is the movie makes the fatal mistake of giving other elements equal importance to the martial arts performances, as well as being afraid to sacrifice some polish in order to optimally showcase of the chops of its star (Jet Li).

I'm not saying martial arts movies can't have strong plots, sub-plots, character development, love stories, etc. Nor am I saying that they shouldn't use technically strong cinematography or art direction. However, these elements must always be made to serve - and serve-up - the fight sequences. If this approach is not used, a film will usually tear itself apart. It will not deliver enough martial arts action to please fans of the genre, nor will it have enough of anything else to please the rest of the audience.

In Kiss of the Dragon, Luc Besson (a really talented writer/director) gives way too much screen time to a subplot with Bridget Fonda playing a crack ho trying to get her daughter back. Fonda gives it her best, but she's sunk by limp dialogue and the fact no one is watching for any reason except to see Jet Li. Additionally, director Chris Nahon clearly doesn't understand the genre at all. He shoots the entire movie the way he would if this were a Rambo film: loads of cutting, objects in the foreground, flashy cinematography, etc. That's fine for standard action flicks, but a martial arts movie often has to forego some of that polish to allow the audience to get a real good look at the martial artists in action. As a result of this inappropriate direction, even the strongest fight scenes in the film - and there are some good ones - don't have the impact they should because the movie gets in the way of us watching them.

Another aspect of the movie I did not like - again arising from the fact that the people in charge of the film just don't get this genre - is that there is nothing in the screenplay that provides Li's character with any kind of motivation or back story that suggests the spirit of the martial arts. Frankly, this movie could have starred any Hollywood action actor if you replaced the martial arts with gun fights.

Kiss of the Dragon is a timewaster at best. Even going in with that assumption, the best way to watch this movie would be to use the chapter menu to see Jet Li's fight scenes and then bail.

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