Kiss of the Dragon

The first image in “Kiss of the Dragon” is of a bunny rabbit licking its paws while crouched next to a dead, bloody rabbit. That shot has absolutely nothing to do with the movie, even on a metaphoric level, but do not be surprised. The movie leaves plenty of other things unexplained, too.

Directed by Chris Nahon and written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (who collaborated on Besson’s “The Fifth Element”), “Kiss of the Dragon” is eager to avoid tedium by jumping right into things. It mistakenly assumes, however, that it’s OK to omit the exposition audiences deserve in exchange for giving them the action they want.

French police detective Richard (Tcheky Karyo) kills a Chinese suspect and frames Chinese government agent Liu Jian (Jet Li) for the murder. Why does he do this? Because he’s “evil,” apparently, and for no other reason. The movie doesn’t indicate he gained anything from killing the suspect, much less for attempting to ruin Liu’s career.

So we don’t know why Richard wants Liu Jian dead, but boy, does he ever want him dead. His thugs pursue him relentlessly through Paris, but Liu knows martial arts and some powerful version of acupuncture. (No word is given on that, either. We’re left to assume it’s not at all uncommon for Chinese operatives to carry around a handful of needles and use them to paralyze people. Having little experience in fighting Chinese operatives, I cannot speak to the authenticity of this notion.)

While running from the law, Liu meets Jessica (Bridget Fonda), the world’s queasiest hooker (she gets nauseated at the sight of sex), who sort of witnessed the murder. Turns out she’s working for a pimp who’s working for Richard, all because Richard has her daughter. Jessica is from America, but no explanation is given as to what she’s doing in France or why she can’t seem to get her daughter out of the orphanage without Richard’s help.

There’s also a train-station locker that Liu is led to, which turns out to contain guns. I don’t know who led him to the locker, nor why there are guns in it. Again, that information was omitted from the film in order to make more room for Richard to say things like, “Bring him to me alive! I’ll kill him myself,” which he does say.

The martial-arts scenes are thrilling, certainly. Jet Li is a refreshing sort of action star, more brooding and less silly than Jackie Chan, and in that way more likable. Bridget Fonda doesn’t add much to the proceedings, but there she is anyway.

This is a no-frills, almost humorless action film. There is a scene where a noble fugitive promises a dying French prostitute that he’ll take care of her daughter, but no one realizes how similar that is to “Les Miserables.” That’s a shame, because this movie needed something to give it a fresh spin.

C (; R, frequent harsh profanity, heavy bloody.)