Devotees may blanch at the sight of Jet Li outfitted with a gun early in Kiss of the Dragon, but not to fear—he’s promptly divested of his weapon and left to part tidal waves of bad guys armed only with his fists of legend and a sporty bracelet crafted from acupuncture needles. As Liu Jiuan, a Chinese government agent, Li is dispatched to Paris on an indeterminate mission at the behest of reptilian police inspector Richard (Tchéky Karyo), who controls a thugs-and-hookers fleet and double-crosses Liu virtually upon his arrival. Once he escapes from a flaming hotel laundry chute (this viewer isn’t sure how, though it surely involves grenades, severed torsos, and opponents de-faced with hot irons), Liu finds himself implicated in a gruesome murder, trailed by Richard’s various ninjas and marksmen, and winsomely stalked by Jessica (Bridget Fonda), the most wholesome smack ‘ho since Eyes Wide Shut‘s streetwalker. (They meet cute when she squats to pee in his doorway.) A displaced Midwestern innocent (“My little farmer’s daughter,” Richard hisses in her ear), Jessica has lost custody of her child and is prone to lengthy, weepy speeches about street smarts and motherhood, which mark too much time between Jet packs of martial-arts mayhem. (Jet stumbles into an entire kung fu class and takes on 20 students at once! Jet pulps a Teutonic duelist in a glass-strewn office, scored to DMX!)
Luc Besson coproduced and cowrote (from a story by Li), and his influence is most clearly manifest in the film’s prostitutes, most of whom are seven feet tall, wear red vinyl thigh-highs, use the s&m implements in their towering coifs to stab johns to death, and bear some resemblance to Rossy de Palma. The exception, unfortunately, is femme nikita Fonda, whose histrionic little-girl-lost performance is downright Jovovichian—and as in Romeo Must Die, the leads barely touch. (Can’t our hero do better? After Aaliyah, why not Jet Li and Beyoncé Knowles? Why not Jet Li and . . . Eve?!) A veteran of commercials and music videos, director Chris Nahon crowds out too much of the sprawling combat gymnastics, but his film doesn’t lack for luxuriously seedy ambience—his Paris is a retro-futurist sewer, and head rat Karyo (a Besson regular) savors every niblet of scenery as the irretrievably evil Richard. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he tells Jessica’s daughter when she asks for a toy to play with. “All my Barbies are working.”
Léa Pool trains an unwavering soft-porn eye on the living dolls in Lost and Delirious, her first English-language feature and a startling letdown after her plaintive, understated coming-of-age tale Set Me Free. Grieving for her mother and newly dumped at boarding school, Mouse (Mischa Barton) bonds with volatile Paulie (Piper Perabo) and gentle Tory (Jessica Paré), a swoony couple soon torn apart by pressure from Tory’s family. Cumulatively excruciating in its mawkish symbolism (vengeful Paulie decides she is a bird, and the script obliges her), quasifeminist posturing (men bad!), and strenuous heterophobia, the movie turns skivvied somersaults to avoid any hint of nuance or ambiguity, resketching the definitively gray territory of sexual awakening as block-lettered identity tract.