Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

"Kiss Fear Goodbye"

Directed by Chris Nahon
Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tchéky Karyo

BMM Keywords: So bad it hurts, dull.

    Lui Jian (Li) is sent to France by the Chinese Secret Service - or something - to assist with a drugs bust by psychotic Sureté detective, Inspector Richard (Karyo) and the gaggle of Clouseau-esque incompetents who masquerade as his narcotics squad. But when the dealer goes upstairs with a couple of hookers and one of them stabs him repeatedly with a hair pin, it all goes to hell; and I do mean the movie.

    It rapidly emerges that Richard set up the hit, and that he is a pimp and a pusher as well as a thug. He might in fact be the French connection that Lui Jian was sent to catch, but I'm not completely sure. What is certain is that he is a bad-un - shooting his own indiscrete hit-hooker and one of his goons just to prove his evilness - and that his goons are entirely useless, failing to apprehend or kill Jian despite numerical superiority, advantage of firepower, and the equal griplessness of Jian's Chinese Secret Service bosses.

    Jian escapes using his knowledge of kung fu and acupuncture, and More or less by chance, befriends the second hooker from the hotel, the drippy Jessica (Fonda), who only works for Richard because he's got her daughter. After rescuing her from Richard's unter-pimps - who do however manage to kill his contact in France, the hapless Uncle Tai (Burt Kwouk) - Jian learns who she is, and she helps him get the evidence he needs, in exchange for which he storms the police headquarters, and rescues her daughter.

    Oh, and the Kiss of the Dragon is a forbidden acupuncture point, at the back of the neck, which paralyses the victim - in this case, Richard - and brings on a swift and especially bloody death.

What's wrong with it?

    Kiss of the Dragon is another of that rare and unforgivable breed; a really boring kung fu action movie. The actual action scenes are quite good, and avoid the slapstick trap nicely enough, but they are too few and far between - or maybe they just felt that way - and besides, with the rank incompetence of the enemy, Lui Jian just looks like a bully for beating up on them.

    Almost none of the characters are sympathetic, or even interesting in their unlovely scummishness. Richard is an agglomeration of the viler traits of every character Karyo has ever played, to the point of mirthless caricature. Jessica is essentially just dull and drippy, and even Lui Jian fails to evoke any real sympathy. The only likeable character in the film is the Uncle Tai, who mourns that none of the young agents sent to his safehouse have ever gone home alive before being shot dead. There's really only one reason to like the hero, and that's because the villain is so utterly vile.

    The foreshadowing is pretty lumpen. Prior to killing the drug baron, the coked up hit-hooker repeatedly asks 'do you want to go to heaven?'; like anyone doesn't know what's coming. Then Richard actually has the gall to point this out to the short of attention span.

What's right with it?

    There's a few decent fight scenes, and dull bully or not, Li is pretty cool. That's about it really.

How bad is it really?

    Pretty tedious, and in a kung fu movie, that's a poor showing.

Best bit?

    One of the contacts in Jian's incredibly complex chain of connections before meeting Richard is an absurdly British airline pilot. As Jian flees the goon squads, said pilot spots him, whips a pair of laser targeted Uzis out of nowhere and starts blasting away. It's kind of a laugh.

What's up with...?


Production values - Fair to middling. There's no crazy wuxia, and the film is probably the better for it, but while adequately shot, there's nothing special about this movie. 8

Dialogue and performances - An ensemble of fairly competent actors fail to breathe life into the cavalcade of caricatures who populate this movie, with the result that we never actually give a shit about any of them. On the other hand, the dialogue never sinks to the point of being memorably bad. 15

Plot and execution - Pretty leaden, and especially disappointing given some of writer Luc Besson's other work. The whole middle section is a nothing, and the plot picks up again only by pure chance (c.f. Randomness). The direction is no more than competent, and fails to bring a sparkle to the material. 14

Randomness - Pimp-pusher cops using their hookers as impromptu - and fairly incompetent - hit women. Acupuncturist kung-fu cops. A plot that holds together only because of coincidence. Plus a couple of moments that make no sense (Richard shows the Chinese police liaison what he claims is footage of Jian killing one of his compatriots, but we don't see the tape, and we know he never did this). Nothing outright insane, but a perpetual air of hysteria. 13

Wast of potential - A kung fu movie written by Luc Besson, starring Jet Li and set in Paris. This could have been Leon with higher kicks; instead it was Le Samourai without the laughs. 18

Overall 68%


Impostor (2002)

"In the future, not everyone is who they seem to be."

Directed by Gary Fleder
Starring Gary Sinise, Madeline Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio and Mekhi Phifer

BMM Keywords: Plodding.

BMM Special Award for painful lack of professional ability on the part of the military industrial complex 

    Genius scientist Spence Olham (Sinise) and his wife, Maya (Stowe) - a brilliant surgeon - are the toast of a world at war with the Centaurans, where the surviving cities are hidden under huge force domes.

    Suddenly, internal security cop Major Hathaway (D'Onofrio) is accusing Olham of being an android double with no idea of his true nature and an undetectable bomb in his chest. Turns out that they intercepted a Centauri transmission with the name Olham on a list of replication targets, and they think he's there to blow up the Chancellor (Lindsay Crouse). Rather than submit to the definitive exam - which involves a big whirly blender on a stick, and is on the fatal side - Olham takes it on the lam, accidentally wasting his best friend in the process. Hathaway pursues, willing to be proved wrong in retrospect rather than find that Olhambot has a secondary trigger that might take out half the city.

    Seeking help from slum dweller Cade (Phifer), he breaks into Maya's hospital for a scan which can prove he is who he says he is, but is interrupted and nearly caught. Finally, he and May head into the forest where he realises that a massive fire was his would-be replacement crashing and burning. He finds the wrecked ship as Hathaway catches up to them, and inside finds the body of his murdered wife. Hathaway shoots Mayabot in case she has a secondary trigger.

    Then they find a second compartment with a dead Spence inside, and - both assassin bots being uncovered - Spencebot's secondary trigger blows them all to hell.

    What do you expect? It's based on a Philip K Dick short story.

What's wrong with it?

    The film's main problem lies in the sheer, impossible griplessness of Hathaway and his goons. Despite being the elite security force in a world at war with a relentless aggressor, they are apparently unable to catch or hold a very frightened nuclear engineer. This happens in a lot of films of course, but in this case it seems especially off-key, particularly in the initial escape scene, where Olham breaks out of a maximum security interrogation chamber. In addition, D'Onofrio is - for some bizarre reason - clearly playing John Malkovich in this movie, which is very distracting.

    Many of the film's messages are also laid on a little thick, such as Spence offering Cade pharmacy drugs in exchange for his aid, only to find that he takes the bona fide medical supplies for the slum hospital, instead of the narcotics, and the coldness of the Chancellor and her staff. You know; because the audience might not get that fascist oppression, even when justified by a colossal external threat, is bad.

    Finally, for what is essentially a suspense thriller, there's not a great deal of suspense. It's pretty obvious from the moment we learn that the name 'Olham' was intercepted that the other Olham is the robot, and the fact that he's one too is also flagged well in advance.

What's right with it?

    When you're not being distracted by hopeless security forces, the film looks incredible. The 'Making of...' feature on the DVD shuffles the Director off camera as quickly as possible, in order to devote two-thirds of its length to the visual design team; and rightly so.

How bad is it really?

    Not terrible, but it doesn't hold the interest well enough for you to really care once you hit the downbeat Philip K Dick finale. The film has some good moments, and some spectacularly tedious quarters of an hour. In the final analysis, it's not really worth making any effort to see.

Best bit?

    Having had his ident-chip removed, Olham slips it into Hathaway's pocket, so that the poor bloody cop spends ten minutes chasing himself around in circles.

What's up with...?


Production Values: Spiffing. You watching here, Lucasfilms? 'Cause you could maybe learn a thing or two. I mean, it's almost a shame to set this ho-hum movie in such beautiful surroundings. 2

Dialogue and performances: Workaday, but in no cases terrible. None of the leads are exactly putting in a career best - aside from D'Onofrio's peerless Malkovich impersonation, matching the record for sustained use of somebody else's persona hitherto held alone by Christopher Lloyd for playing Lance Henriksen in Convergence (easily beating out Ryan Phillipe, playing John Malkovich in Cruel Intentions) - but they are all good actors. 7

Plot and execution: Overextended. Most of the 'surprises' are too long flagged, and the interest is not held. 12

Randomness: Not a great deal, aside from the previously mentioned crap-assness of the security police. 9

Waste of Potential: This probably would have made a truly superb Outer Limits episode, but no; they had to go and make a full-length movie of it. And the director must have felt shame watching all that production design go to waste. 15



Dagon (2001)

Reviewed by Tim Deegan

Director: Stuart Gordon
Stars: Ezra Godden, Francisco Rabal.

Keywords: Incomprehensible, Shambling

    Our hero's yacht is driven onto rocks by a Sudden and Mysterious Storm. Hero and Girl (yes, they have names, but they're not important) row to a small fishing village for help, meet a Creepy Priest and some shambling denizens. Hero goes out on a fishing boat to rescue Other Guy and Other Girl from the yacht; they're gone! So he comes back and is chased around for a while by shambling denizens, aquatic beasties, Mutant Tentacle-Legged Priestess of Dagon (hereinafter MTLPoD), etc, then meets an Ancient Mariner.

    Ancient Mariner provides a flashback: once upon a time the village was a happy, friendly place, where people smiled and the sun shone. Then they made a trade agreement with a nearby undersea community: sacrifice women to the Dagon's lust, get free fish and gold. Now all the villagers are half-human shambling Cthulhu-worshipping things who make human-skin masks to hide their hideousness.

    But then! Hero and Mariner are captured, and reunited with with Girl (worried) and Other Girl (insane) in a crap-ass prison/warehouse/shack. Creepy Priest reappears, Girl is taken off to Dagon, Hero and Mariner are dragged away by shambling goons. Priest cuts off Mariner's face with a golden butter-knife. MTLPoD intervenes to save Hero's life. Hero kills the goons, disembowels Creepy Priest, and goes to save Girl.

    Too Late! Girl is already being lowered Temple-of-Doom-style down the sacrificial pit. Hero lights some shambling denizens on fire, then grows gills. MTLPoD makes a pass at Hero, who lights himself on fire. MTLPoD shoves him down pit into sea, they swim off to Dagon. Roll credits. Clear? Good.

What's wrong with it?

The usual suspects: acting, plot, script. The Hero's big line when he kills the Creepy Priest is: "This is what it feels like... to die!" They just weren't trying.

What's right with it?

Quality shambling, that's what. These fellows are clearly amateurs, but they give it all they've got, and they're enjoying every minute of it. They can chitter and point evilly with the best, too. Dagon-tastic.

How bad is it really?

It's not good. They took a H. P. Lovecraft story ("The Shadow Over Innsmouth", which wasn't a masterpiece to begin with), took out the atmosphere, the lines, the plot consistency and the characterisation, and put in tentacle rape. (That'll do wonders for the Google ratings).

Best bit

Hero: If I stay, will you let Barbara go?
MTLPoD: (patient, explaining) Until you came, there had been no sacrifices for a year. Dagon needs her.
Hero: (angry) Fuck Dagon!
MTLPoD: (cheerful) Yes!

What's up with?


Production Values: 6. Decent CGI, lighting and sound. Passable sets.

Dialogue and Performances: 17. Paco Rabal is the only actor in the bunch, and the script is pretty dismal.

Plot: 15. Stock Zombie plot, plus some randomness. No advance on Resident Evil, or even on Day of the Dead for that matter.

Randomness: 13. Not all their fault - "The Shadow over Innsmouth" was pretty random to begin with. But they insert whole scenes in the being-chased-by-shambling-denizens section that have no purpose other than to pop up another aquatic horror (with associated music sting).

Waste of Potential: 14. There was a chance to make a really good, subtle tension-builder here, and they went for the shambling-and-tentacles rollicking shocker. Oh well.

Total 65%