Flying jibes

Kiss of the Dragon
Starring Jet Li, Tcheky Karyo and Bridget Fonda. Directed by Chris Nahon. Rated R.
Rated 3.0 Kiss of the Dragon is a French production filmed in Paris studios and locations, but it is also something of an outlandish international stew—a kung fu vehicle for Jet Li, a polyglot thriller filmed in English, a farrago involving French and Chinese characters and a single, inexplicably displaced American who just happens to be played by Bridget Fonda.

Jet Li-wise, the thing gives us our money’s worth in over-the-top martial-arts action, with the perhaps perverse bonus of the hero’s use of acupuncture for paralytic and/or lethal purposes. The Fonda character, a farm girl and single mother trapped into heroin and prostitution, is standard action-movie pornography and an emblem of the morbid sentimentality that the genre insists on milking.

Li’s antagonist, a maniacal Parisian cop played by Tcheky Karyo, is deadpan travesty—a supervillain whose malevolent recklessness goes to such absurd extremes that the comic aspect of kung fu exaggerations is doubled in force and humorous impact. Thanks to Karyo’s antics and their general contagiousness among his henchmen, Kiss of the Dragon becomes a French filmmaker’s savage jibe at the French (cinéaste Luc Besson produced and co-wrote but left the directing to Chris Nahon this time).

The preposterousness of it all is part of the pleasure, early on at least. It’s the sort of film in which the principals can go at each other with machine guns in a posh hotel and not have any visible disturbing effect on the guests or the staff. It’s movie-movie stuff, a live-action cartoon full of engagingly orchestrated violence, and it’s good, nasty fun for as long as it’s able to conceal its basic cynicism.