If you are a fan of Jet Li, but maybe do not follow his career in a stalker sort of way, you might be wondering what has happened to him. After having a successful career in Hong Kong cinema, following in the footsteps of martial arts greats like Bruce Lee, Jet Li began appearing in American made films. The first I recall is Lethal Weapon 4 (1998). I know I saw the movie in the theater, but search me if I can remember anything else beyond Li being in it. I know he was a bad guy. The one that really put him on the map, and made him seemingly a competitor to Jackie Chan, is Romeo Must Die (2000). Both are skilled with their kicks and punches, but have different styles. I enjoy Jackie Chan, but I prefer Jet Li. The latter feels more like a polished martial artist. As someone who has dabbled in kung fu, I appreciate the skill. This had me going to the movies to see his performances. Unfortunately, in 2010 he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. It is a non-lethal condition, but it leaves people who suffer from it with severe fatigue. I am sure you can work out how that might be a disadvantage to a movie star with a reputation for fisticuffs. So, while you may not see him sparring on screen anymore, you can always go back and watch a quality film like Kiss of the Dragon (2001).
In Kiss of the Dragon, Liu Jian (Jet Li) is a Chinese operative sent to Paris, France, to assist in the capture of an Asian drug lord, Mister Big (Ric Young). When he arrives in the City of Light, his first stop is to a sleeper cell. This is the shrimp cracker shop of someone known as Uncle Tai (Burt Kwouk), whose establishment serves as a safehouse for Chinese agents. Saying that he will not be staying long, he then heads to the hotel where Parisian chief of police Inspector Richard’s (Tchéky Karyo) team is monitoring Mister Big. Through surveillance cameras, they observe two prostitutes enter the room. One of them begins to perform for the crime boss, while the other, Jessica Kamen (Bridget Fonda), does not seem able to go through with it. The one who stays with Mister Big takes out blades from her hair and stabs him. Doing so prompts Liu to rush into the room, followed closely by Richard holding Liu’s service weapon. When Richard enters, he finishes the job the prostitute started, and then attempts to kill Liu. Liu manages to escape the building and returns to Uncle Tai’s. In the meantime, the Chinese embassy is contacted about the death of Mister Big. Richard is able to present them with pictures of Liu, Richard’s accusations that the operative went rogue and murdered Mister Big, and Liu’s pistol. The one item the French authorities do not have is the surveillance footage showing what truly happened, which Liu managed to confiscate on his way out. Still, this is not the full extent of Richard’s corruption. Jessica, like other ladies of the night in the city, are in Richard’s employ. To keep her there, Richard is holding her daughter Isabel (Isabelle Duhauvelle) hostage, and keeping Jessica strung out on drugs against her will. It is later revealed that back in the United States, after conceiving a child out of wedlock in a part of the country that still cares about such things, she met the wrong Frenchman and ended up in this situation. Richard supposedly told Jessica that if she helped with Mister Big, she would be allowed to see Isabel once more. Yet, when things do not go as Richard intended, she is injected with heroin and put back out on the streets. The spot where she plies her wares happens to be in front of Uncle Tai’s shop, although he is none too pleased by the presence of hookers. She gets introduced to Liu when she asks to use his restroom. Later she helps stitch a cut on the back of his arm, and Liu gets to know her sad story. At the same time, he is working with the Chinese embassy to try and get them the evidence of Richard’s wrongdoing. Unfortunately for Liu, they are being closely monitored by Richard and the rest of his corrupt cops. What becomes his potential ace in the hole is Jessica, particularly when he realizes that she had been at the hotel the night Mister Big died. Richard eventually learns of the connection between the two as well, and takes Isabel out of the orphanage where she is being held before Liu and Jessica can get to her. Jessica believes all is lost, especially when she is shot during their attempt to rescue Isabel. Thus, it is down to Liu to take on an entire station worth of French police officers. In his final encounter with Richard, Liu uses a needle to stick into the back of the French officer’s neck, the title technique, which results in a painful death. Liu then is able to finally reunite Isabel and Jessica.
There is no mistaking Kiss of the Dragon: it is a pretty standard martial arts flick. If you have seen enough of them, even though it is the fighting scenes you watch it for, they are in many respects the most boring. Not that they are meant to be overly complicated. Usually, the good guy triumphs against overwhelming odds. In this sense, there is nothing special about the film. What makes it a little extra special for me is Jessica’s character. When I saw this twenty years ago, I am sure my twenty-something brain did not make much of Jessica. It was before I began practicing my Faith, a time when I actually flirted with the notion of converting to another religion. I am sure I felt pity for a person in her situation, but my Faith amplifies it. At the same time, I wonder what I would do if I were approached by somebody in Jessica’s profession needing help. Jesus encountered such a person in the form of Mary Magdalene, and stood up for her in the public square when she was about to be stoned for her actions. With Jessica, it is emphasized that she never wanted to become that kind of person, that she is a victim of circumstance. In other words, the film makes it easier for you to feel sorry for her. In reality, there are women who turn to prostitution as a way of making money because they, too, feel like they have no choice. That is, perhaps, saddest of all. Pray for such people, not only that they do not give in to such a trap, but if they do, that they have the strength to overcome it.
Kiss of the Dragon is an uncomplicated movie, with a short running time. It does have a bit more of a moral, human element to it, which I covered in the last paragraph. In the end, the good guys win and the bad guys lose. Richard is a bit of a mustache twirling villain, but it works in this context. If you are a Jet Li aficionado and you are not familiar with this one, then see it. I do not recommend it to all audiences, but it is a solid motion picture.