Directed by Chris Nahon, starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tcheky Karyo.

Asian megastar Jet Li showed himself to be less than astute in 1998 when he chose the pathetic Lethal Weapon 4 as his first English language film. Things improved slightly with last year's 'Romeo Must Die' but the western jury is still out on Li's potential to be the new Jackie Chan. Now here comes another opportunity to assess his chances.

The inscrutable, but lethally efficient, Chinese agent Liu Jiuan (Li) is dispatched to Paris to assist the French police with an operation clouded in a veil of such secrecy that even he doesn't know the full details. The operation is being headed up by slimy and brutally vicious top cop Richard (Karyo). Indeed, the audience (and our Chinese agent) is introduced to Richard as he maniacally pummels a baddie to within an inch of his life, then instructing his band of sadistic henchmen to exhaust the final inch. As you've probably guessed, he's instantly detestable.

Although the fundamentals of the operation are never fully revealed, it revolves around an attempt to bust a Chinese drug smuggler. But our early suspicions of Richard are soon confirmed as the sting turns out to be a set-up, with Jiuan being framed for murder. Forced to go on the run in a city he knows nothing about, Jiuan is faced with the task of proving his innocence in a battle of wits (and fists) with the entire Parisian police fleet. Things are complicated even further when the Chinese agent meets Jessica (Fonda), an American prostitute who has not only been forced into drugs and prostitution by the ubiquitously evil Richard, but is also, conveniently enough, the one witness who can confirm Jiuan's innocence.

While young French director Chris Nahon (making his feature debut) is credited as the director of 'Kiss Of the Dragon', it has been rumoured that Luc Besson, who scripted the film, assumed all but nominal control of the directing process. Whatever the truth, this lacks the visual spark of some of Besson's previous directorial efforts, but still manages to convince as an action spectacle. Surprisingly, the urge to exclusively frame the usual Parisian landmarks has been resisted, and although we do get generous views of the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, the Eiffel Tower and Place de la Concorde among others, the overall view of the city is more of a montage of the good, the bad and the ugly.

As the consummately deadly martial artist with a penchant for multi-purpose acupuncture techniques, Li lacks the juvenile charisma of Jackie Chan, but his combative competence remains an adequate substitute. Bridget Fonda does her best with the damsel, or rather hooker in distress role, while Turkish born Karyo is a sadistically suave villain.

In almost all martial arts action movies, plot is subordinate to action, and 'Kiss Of The Dragon' is no different. Besson actually developed the script from a story by Li, and it's clear that the former is more interested in evincing Li's martial arts prowess than at cultivating a crime caper with any real character depth or credibility. Yet despite the myriad inconsistencies and the often laughable far-fetched moments, one still leaves 'Kiss Of The Dragon' exhilarated by the pace, action and sheer excitement of the spectacle.

Tom Grealis