By Aaron Cutler
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Chris Klimek
By Nick Schager
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
Yes, he stages some great fight scenes here, filled with dazzling and clever bits of business, and much less reliant on the camera tricks and invisible-wire technique that American viewers have been exposed to in Charlie's Angels and other recent productions that have absorbed Hong Kong-style action. But in most cases the staging is compromised or even ruined by bad cutting: Western editors haven't a clue about how to assemble Hong Kong action footage, and Kiss of the Dragon's fight scenes are often hard to follow, with disorienting transitions and no clear sense of geography. (The potentially clever idea of pitting Liu against two nearly identical bleached-blond Anglo giants -- listed in the credits as "The Twins" -- completely backfires. From moment to moment, we can't tell if there's one bad guy or two, or which one is where. It's just a total mess.)
There is enough cleverness on display to keep these scenes enjoyable, but there is also the frustration of how much better they could have been. One scene -- where Liu fights his way through an entire classroom of martial arts students -- stands out as so superior to the others in this regard that one wonders if it was cut by Yuen himself. Since it's derived from a classic scene he directed in Fist of Legend, that doesn't seem impossible.
Jet Li is a wonderful performer, but his American films so far -- including Romeo Must Die and his stint in Lethal Weapon 4 -- continue to miss the mark. Kiss of the Dragon will probably please hardcore action fans who have become inured to plot idiocies, but it remains a terrible waste of talent. Fonda, who has done some fine work, is totally wasted here; and Karyo's cackling villain makes Gary Oldman's scenery chewing in The Professional look positively restrained.
One final note: People with an aversion to extreme violence should give Kiss of the Dragon a pass. This isn't your family-friendly Jackie Chan fare, folks; its R rating is well-deserved.
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