Movie Reviews

Jet Li's Best Martial Arts Trick Saved Kiss Of the Dragon

The fight scenes in Jet Li’s 2001 action movie Kiss of the Dragon were influenced by his 1994 movie Fist of Legend, and this greatly benefited the visceral martial arts film. Following Li’s breakout villain role in the 1998 sequel Lethal Weapon 4, he took his first leading role in a Hollywood movie with Romeo Must Die in 2000. Li continued with English-language movies the next year with Kiss of the Dragon, though this one would take him from Hollywood to France.

In Kiss of the Dragon, Li plays Chinese cop Liu Jian, who arrives to assist Parisian authorities in apprehending a drug lord. When Liu is framed for the crime boss’s murder and goes on the run, he’s aided by Jessica (Bridget Fonda), an American woman forced into prostitution by corrupt police chief Richard (Tcheky Karyo). Kiss of the Dragon‘s fight scenes are also very realistic, and Romeo Must Die is the primary reason why.

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Jet Li’s eventual success with Kiss of the Dragon actually came from bucking a trend and relying on more grounded techniques —literally. After Keanu Reeves’s fights in The Matrix, “wire fu” became popular in action movies made in the West, and therefore the fight scenes of Romeo Must Die incorporated a fairly sizeable amount of wire work. In feedback on Li’s website, fans shared their feelings that the movie had been excessively reliant on wire fu. They also expressed interest in Li’s next action movie having fight scenes more in the vein of those in Fist of Legend. This led to Kiss of Dragon, under the action direction of Romeo Must Die‘s fight choreographer and frequent Jet Li collaborator Corey Yuen, doing exactly that.

Fist of Legend is widely regarded as one of Jet Li’s best movies, if not the best. A remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, it centers on the character Chen Zhen (Li) as he seeks to avenge the death of his sifu, who was poisoned ahead of a match during the Japanese occupation of China. Fist of Legend made minimal use of wires in its martial arts fights, with the movie being home to some of Li’s most spellbinding action scenes. These include Li’s Chen Zhen fighting a Japanese dojo single-handedly and his extended battles with Yasuaki Kurata and kickboxing champion Billy Chow.

Kiss of the Dragon was quite comparable in its approach, only using wires at a few select points, which worked better for its gritty crime story than wire fu ever would have. Even when wires were put to use, characters never took flight or broke the laws of gravity. Whether in Li’s battle with a police martial arts class or his climactic showdown with Cyril Raffaelli of District 13 fame, the fights were very much on the same wavelength as Fist of Legend‘s. In both case, the more Earth-bound, dramatic nature of the two movies was helped by the bare use of wire work.

While The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon made wire fu a big deal in Hollywood action movies of the early 2000s, Kiss of the Dragon chose to keep things real. Ultimately, whether wire fu should be heavily incorporated in a martial arts film really depends on the style it’s going for. In the case of both Kiss of the Dragon and Fist of Legend, keeping the wires largely out of play was the right call, with two incredible martial arts films being the end result, and the former even being one of Jet Li’s best English-language movies.

NEXT: Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple Movies Ranked From Worst To Best

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