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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( 41:29)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • 4 Featurette
  • Animated menus
  • TV spot
  • Storyboards

Kiss of the Dragon: SE

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 95 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

With all the high-flying, wire-assisted, martial arts that seem to be the staple in Hollywood at the moment (better late than never), trust the French and enigmatic filmmaker Luc Besson to take the good-old kung-fu movie back to its roots. Kiss of the Dragon, Besson’s latest project (as co-writer and executive producer), is a Hollywood-brand action movie, set in Paris, and featuring a Chinese star (Jet Li). Devoid of gravity-defying aerial manoeuvres, or complex sci-fi subplots, it serves up a traditional dollop of arm-breaking, neck-snapping, head-crunching fun. Rather refreshingly, the star of the film doesn’t get to fight himself.

Beijing’s finest cop, Liu Jian (Li), has been sent to Paris to help the French authorities crack a drug smuggling operation involving Chinese diplomats. Leading the case is Paris’ most high-profile inspector (Tcheky Karyo), who we quickly learn is a ruthless, cold-blooded psychopath and the kingpin of crime in the city. In no time, Jian is unwittingly caught up in the inspector’s nefarious shenanigans and, framed for the murder of the diplomat he had come to arrest, the very same Parisian authorities are soon hot on his trail. Disappearing into the sleazy alleys and grimy backstreets of Paris, Jian’s only hope to prove his innocence is a young American prostitute named Jessica (Bridget Fonda) – the only remaining witness to the crime of which he is accused. But with the big bad inspector holding Jessica’s child hostage (to keep her turning tricks), Jian’s got Buckley’s chance of getting her to talk. That is of course, unless he beats five shades of shit out of every bent cop in the city...

What ensues is a set of ever more exciting, frenetic and breathtaking fight scenes, as the supremely talented Li wades his way through countless minions like a hot knife through butter.

Despite the involvement of Besson and co., Kiss of the Dragon is a cookie-cutter, video game of a script for a well-trodden genre. By the end of the movie Li has cleared all the levels, the minions have been dispatched, he has killed the obligatory aryan kung-fu nazis and he has reached the big boss. Problem is, we all know how the game ends, don’t we? And yet, while cliché certainly abounds and some of the dialogue is typically banal, the film's European pedigree is not without its influence. The characters that inhabit Kiss of the Dragon are refreshingly well-motivated and the acting is a few notches above genre-standard. Jet, looking very reminiscent of Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, does a great job in the lead role; displaying a deal more of his trademark charisma than made its way into the woeful Romeo Must Die. Bridget Fonda also does well with her pathetic but likeable crack whore, and Tcheky Karyo (a Besson regular) provides a suitably evil antagonist. First-time director Chris Nahon (another to make the leap from advertising) has managed to imbue the visuals with a satisfyingly dark and gritty tone; successfully utilising the Parisian locations to full and satisfying effect in much the same way as Frankenheiner did in Ronin.

All in all, Kiss of the Dragon is a satisfying action film filled with furious set-pieces, the charismatic and highly-capable Jet Li, and a scantily-clad Bridget Fonda. What more could you want? And yet, although it still ranks as rather a guilty pleasure, in the end it succeeds in delivering a little more cinematic integrity than many of its stable mates.

  Video
Contract

Presented at its original theatrical aspect ratio (2.35:1), Kiss of the Dragon’s anamorphic transfer is nothing short of stunning. Taking full advantage of its wonderful Parisian locations, it regularly switches between sumptuous European interiors and picturesque cityscapes; yet always returns to the city’s more seedy, and wonderfully textured, underbelly. At times, the palette is rich and vibrant, at others it is dark, almost gothic. With more than half the scenes staged at night, and with lighting and shadow used to full effect, director Nahon has created a moody piece of action fodder.

The good news is that Fox’s transfer is perfect in all respects. Apart from a single instance of posterisation when rendering a dense cloud of white flour, the image is devoid of any compression artefacts at all – amazing given the relative darkness of the film. With only one or two small specks, the source material is also crystal clear, and despite a razor sharp transfer, the telecine process has not added any noteworthy aliasing or moirè. The level of detail in both well-lit and the all-important under-lit scenes is nothing short of spectacular, and the transfer plumbs the depths of detail that Paris has to offer. The layer change, coming around the 40 minute mark, is a little clunky, but reasonably well placed at a scene change. Definitely a transfer to have kung-fu fans braying with delight.

  Audio
Contract

Typically, entries in the action genre provide knock-out soundtracks, and Kiss of the Dragon is certainly no exception. Complimenting the stunning visuals is a wonderful Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that makes full use of all six channels to create an immersive viewing experience. Separation across the five main channels is great, with panning effects across the front and rear. Specific effects are also targeted to specific channels; relating sounds and dialogue from off camera. Gunfire cracks, bullets criss-cross the room and ricochets ping from all directions. Ambience is also impressive, with an almost continuous level of detail in the surround channels - the busy streets of Paris, the sounds of a hotel kitchen at work; all locations have been captured beautifully. The thudding, dance-inspired score that accompanies the continuous fisticuffs also helps to create an immersive soundstage; balanced nicely between the front and rear. The subwoofer gets a satisfying workout, helping to add doof to the score, roaring to life with the many explosions and ordinance that punctuate proceedings, and nicely accentuating the dull thud of fist on French cop. Impressive stuff indeed.

  Extras
Contract

Fox have really come to the party with their sell-through release, providing a disc that is truly worthy of the title Collector’s Edition and somewhat of a novelty for the genre.

  • Commentary: Chris Nahon, Jet Li and Bridget Fonda: Although recorded separately, these three speak almost continuously; providing some interesting anecdotes, observations and recollections about the making of the film. The result is an engaging commentary that, whilst a little stilted due to Nahon and Li’s problems with the English language, will commands your attention right to the end credits. In all, a great companion to the film.

  • Jet Li - Fighting Philosophy: (11min 26s) Interviews with Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and other actors relate both Jet’s approach to film making and their impressions of this most skilled of performers. Jet relates his martial arts background from a very young age, and also discusses his collaboration with long time friend Corey Yuen in bringing Kiss of the Dragon's elaborate action scenes to the screen. Another interesting and worthwhile companion to the film.

  • Corey Yuen – Action Academy: (7min 55s) Starting out in the same Chinese Opera troupe as Jackie and Samo (you know the ones), Corey relates his background in the Chinese theatre, how he got his start in the Hong Kong film industry, and what action choreography for film is all about. Reasonably interesting, this featurette provides some insights into the action movie making process.

  • Police Gymnasium Fight – Martial Arts Demo: Two sets of demos are shown for sections of the spectacular gymnasium fight. Corey Yuen and his stunt crew run through the moves, providing examples of how it can look from various camera angles.

  • On the Set Action: A two-minute montage of action moments from the film, each snippet from the finished product followed immediately by the same shot as it appeared from behind-the-scenes. In two minutes of frenetic cuts, nearly every major set-piece in the film is presented.

  • Storyboard to Scene Comparison – “The Laundry Chute”: A wonderful multi-angle enabled feature that the storyboards as one angle, the finished scene as a second angle, and both together as the third angle. A great way to view such a comparison, and a very interesting addition if you’re ever thinking of pitching your very own action extravaganza.

  • Storyboard Sequence – “The Orphanage”: No multi-angle here folks, it’s storyboards only. Interesting nonetheless.

  • Featurette: Interviews with cast and crew, scenes from the film and on-set footage are cut together in a fast MTV style, all with narration from that annoying American voice-over guy. Everything here is covered in the previous material.

  • Art Gallery – Production Stills: 101, (yes 101) production stills including publicity material and shots of cast and crew at work on the set. Shown in a montage over five and a half minutes, they are set to a thumping dance track.

  • Theatrical Trailer: Presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and with a great transfer, it’s still of little interest to anyone. No. really.

  • TV Spots: Six spots in all that, given the wealth of other material on offer, could easily have been dropped. You’ve got to give Fox an A for effort.

  Overall  
Contract

If Kiss of the Dragon establishes one thing, it's that Jet Li is the undisputed king of the kung-fu film. Forget Jean-Claude, Steven Segal (shudder), or the thousand other imitators, Jet Li is the real deal; and in this reviewer's humble opinion, the best martial arts actor since (his holiness) Bruce Lee (a fact not lost on the filmmakers). Yes, Kiss of the Dragon has its problems, but it remains a cut above the raft of other such films currently filling the video store shelves. With wonderful audio and video, and an impressive set of extras provided by Fox, I have no hesitation in recommending this Collector's Edition release to all fans of the genre.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1742
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      And I quote...
    "Impressive kung-fu, a raft of French cops getting beaten senseless and a scantily-clad Bridget Fonda. How many guilty pleasures can you fit into one film?"
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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