Wow… Luc Besson, Chis Nahon, Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, and Tcheky Karyo have created one of the few action epics to come out of Hollywood recently. Amidst the never ending river of s…x-bloated, formula-storied, decadent drivel that streams out of California, Kiss of the Dragon stands out as a gem. The action is intense and expertly choreographed by Corey Yuen, the story is edgy and immersing, the sound is enveloping and perfectly scored (by Craig Armstrong, also responsible for Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet), and the acting is superb. Jet Li and Tcheky Karyo will forever have a place in my heart for their disturbingly true-to-life performances.
Critics have argued that as Chris Nahon’s directorial debut, Kiss of the Dragon suffers from inexperience (OK, the middle distance shots do cramp the action – the martial arts class fight is a painful example), but I would say that whatever it lost to inexperience it gained back tenfold in effervescence (for lack of a better word) – the movie leaps of the screen with energy that makes you want to stand up and clap after every fight scene. On the plus side though, this movie doesn’t feature the bizarre, distracting digital effects that broke the flow of Romeo Must Die.
The DVD continues the precedent set by the movie by offering a superb blend of quality audio and video and a plethora of special features. Keep in mind that this disc is not a Special or Collector’s edition, but it certainly could have been. What I’m seeing, however, is a SE in the future – give it about a year until Jet Li collectors and action fans would be willing to buy another version of this disc, and I think we’ll see a DTS version with a new squeaky clean digital transfer. In the meantime, here’s a brief plot synopsis from Amazon.com:
No one is usually checking a Jet Li movie for the verbal sparring. In Kiss of the Dragon, Chinese undercover agent Li chops his way through Paris after he’s framed in some sketchily defined drug sting operation. The fight sequences are tough and quite brutal, and the over-the-top finale is arguably worth the price of admission, wherein an implacable Li takes on the entire Paris Police Bureau…
Three stars for sound reflect the good use of 5.1 channels. The best work was done in the movie’s production stage, however, not in mastering the DVD. For a good example of the original audio design in action, check out the final office scene with the two weird tall brothers. Spolier Warning! Stop Reading Here! After Johnny kills the first brother the music stops and fight finishes with really well rendered ambient noises. Great use of sound and soundstage – the transition from soundtrack to ambient adds a new level of intensity to the final fight. The 5.1 is good through-out both parts of the scene, but its not a standout. Note that this is in keeping with my SE theory – I’m willing to bet that an SE version with some kick-ass audio will appear on the scene eventually. In the meantime, however, the sound on this disc is competent, if not exceptional.
The video is good – but not great. Given how recently this was filmed, I expected a better transfer. Blacks and colours don’t seem to be fully saturated – generally speaking, the film seems to be washed out beyond what can be expected from artistic choice. Additionally, there’s a reasonable, although not excessive, amount of dust and scratches that show up. I think I’ve just been spoiled by the reference quality of the Phantom Menace disk though – for the 96% of viewers, the damage to Kiss of the Dragon would be unnoticeable. The weird thing is the Kiss of the Dragon theatrical trailer (included in the special features), which has much better blacks and colours than the movie itself. Weird! So, video gets three stars.
A smorgasbord of features greet you in the Special Features section of this disc. The Commentary from Chris Nahon, Jet Li, and Bridget Fonda is funny as Chris is a native French speaker and Jet is a native Chinese speaker – i.e.: the only person that is easily understood is Bridget. In one of the other features Bridget claims that Jet is shy, but he seems to have overcome it for this commentary as he talks more or less continuously. This is a good thing, and a definite must hear for Jet Li fans.
Kiss of the Dragon Featurette: Pretty fluffy, but check out Jet Li’s complexion – it is perfect for the featurette, scarred in the movie, and scarred in the Fighting Philosophy feature… interesting that the producers chose to buff him up for the studio promo piece. The Corey Yuen Featurette (the fight choreographer) is much better – really interesting to hear how he and Jackie Chan trained together for Beijing Opera and how his interest in martial arts was driven by changes in traditional theatre. The Jet Li Fighting Philosophy Feature is also interesting to hear; Jet gives a good synopsis of his life, including how he aggressively pushed himself into the Hong Kong films scene – apparently a challenge for someone of smaller stature.
The last item of note are the storyboard featurettes – for a real treat, watch them in 2x fast advance, and they basically become pencil animated versions of the scenes – cool.
All told, a good disc and a worthy investment for any Jet Li or action fan. I do believe there to be an SE en route, but its not worth waiting to buy as this disc packs a tremendous punch here and now.
Special Features List
- Commentary with Chris Nahon, Jet Li, and Bridget Fonda
- Jet Li Fighting Philosophy Feature
- Fight Coreographer Corey Yuen Feature
- Martial Arts Demos
- Production Featurette
- Theatrical Trailers