Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Perhaps you’re thinking that Kiss of the Dragon is this summer’s big action/martial arts offering, but, to judge by the audience’s reaction at a recent screening, Jet Li’s latest is actually a comedy. The laughs were constant as faces were bloodied, a body was cut in half, and skin was burned by hot irons. (Hoo, these guys sure know how to fight!) Only one particularly torturous death made these moviegoers squirm—and, because I was watching the film with the general public and not, say, at a prison, the lighthearted response to the rather serious violence onscreen made me more than a little cautious walking back to my car. I’ll grant that Li is a likable fellow and certainly worth cheering on. Unlike many action figures, he seems human: His eyes widen with a hint of fear when things go awry, he looks frantic and confused when running away from the bad guys, and, in a post-whupass moment early in the film, he asks with disarming, childlike horror, “Why did you kiw him?” The enemy in this case, Richard (Tchéky Karyo), has enticed Li’s government agent—whom Richard insists on calling “Johnny,” unwilling to pronounce his real name—to France to help him in a sting operation whose true intention is to frame Johnny, for reasons unexplained. While waiting for the ensuing manhunt to cool down so he can proffer evidence of his innocence to the authorities, Johnny becomes involved with Jessica (Bridget Fonda), a prostitute who’s also entangled with evil Richard but who has to play nice until the baddie decides to tell her where he’s keeping her daughter. Fonda’s near-whine was put to better use in light movies such as Singles and It Could Happen to You, and her one-dimensional role as the hooker with a, well, you know, becomes officially unbelievable when she complains that her exhausted co-workers get more work in one day than she gets in a week. (Although Fonda’s vanilla prettiness is unremarkable by Hollywood standards, I’d think she’d be top of the line as far as strung-out French streetwalkers are concerned.) But Johnny pities her anyway, maybe even falls in love a little bit, and, like a true gentleman, risks his life as he fights what seems like most of France to get Jessica’s daughter back. It’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. —Tricia Olszewski