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Jet Li Breathes Life Into 'Kiss of Dragon'

January 24, 2002|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Martial arts expert Jet Li is extraordinary to watch on screen and he has some spectacular fight sequences in the suspense thriller "Kiss of the Dragon," which was produced and co-written by French filmmaker Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita").

But even the presence of Li can't help this extremely violent and often misogynistic film about a tough Chinese government agent who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy when he is sent to Paris on a top-secret mission.

The DVD of "Kiss" features a wide-screen edition of the film, production stills, theatrical trailers, storyboard-to-scene comparisons, a pretty good mini-documentary in which Li talks about the martial arts and another that highlights the work of action choreographer Cory Yuen. French director Chris Nathon, Li and Bridget Fonda, who plays a drug-addicted hooker who comes to the aid of Li, supply the commentary.

Though Nathon and Li are enthusiastic in their commentary, their strong accents make it difficult to understand. Fonda, though, is very interesting as she describes how she prepares for her movie roles. For the first time in her life, she says, she accepted the film without a script or even without a clue as to her character because she loves the films of Besson and Li.

"An American Rhapsody" is a more entertaining and enriching experience than "Kiss of the Dragon." The drama marks the directorial debut of film editor Eva Gardos.

Nastassja Kinski and Tony Goldwyn star as a couple who escape communist-ruled Hungary, only to discover that their baby daughter has been left behind in the country. The young girl, Suzanne (played as a teenager by Scarlett Johansson), is sent to live with foster parents while her real parents, now living in California, try to undo the red tape in order to get her back. At the age of 6, Suzanne is taken from her loving foster parents and sent to live with the family she never knew in California.

The DVD (Paramount, $30) includes a nice wide-screen edition of the film and lovely commentary from Gardos, who also wrote the film, and her best friend and producer, Colleen Camp, who also has a small role in the film. The two, who have known each other since they worked together on "Apocalypse Now," talk eloquently about the genesis of the project and the difficulties they encountered getting the film made.

Larry Clark, who directed the controversial drama "Kids," returns with another difficult, uncompromising drama about today's youth, "Bully." It is based on a true story, about a group of teenagers drifting aimlessly in a sea of booze, drugs and sex. Brad Renfro stars as a surfer who is physically and mentally abused by his longtime friend, Bobby (Nick Stahl). Rachel Miner plays Renfro's girlfriend, who decides that Bobby's reign of terror must end. Not for the faint of heart.

The DVD (Lions Gate, $25) features the wide-screen edition of the film, a music-only soundtrack, a brief on-set interview with Clark and interviews with the entire cast, who talk about their characters and working with Clark. The young actors, who seem to have no qualms in baring all in this film, have some fun with the interviewer when she asks them how they got their roles.

Clocking in at 225 minutes, "Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India" won the Audience Award at the 2001 Locarno International Film Festival. The handsomely made but overlong drama (with musical interludes) stars Aamir Khan, one of India's most popular performers.

Set in 1893 during the reign of Queen Victoria in India, "Lagaan" focuses on a young Indian farmer who, out of anger that his poor village is faced to pay twice the amount of "lagaan" (tax) to the local raj, makes a deal with the British that he and the village can beat them at cricket. And if they do, they won't have to pay "lagaan" for three years.

The DVD (Columbia TriStar, $28) includes a wide-screen edition of the film, deleted scenes and filmographies.

Daria, the star of the popular MTV animated show about a cynically funny high school student, made her film debut in the made-for-video feature "Daria: The Movie: Is it Fall Yet?" The 75-minute film is very funny and should even appeal to people who have never seen the MTV series.

The sarcastic Daria Morgendorffer is forced by her parents to spend her summer vacation as a volunteer at a camp for sensitive children. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Quinn, and the other members of her fashion club decide to get a tutor to help them improve their scores to get into a party college.

The DVD (Paramount, $20) includes two bonus episodes of the series and a movie video. "Daria" is also available on VHS ($15) and includes the music video.

"Tombstone," the 1993 western about Wyatt Earp and his brothers and their shootout at the OK Corral with the infamous Clanton gang, comes to DVD in a two-disc set (Hollywood, $30). Kurt Russell stars as Wyatt and Val Kilmer is Doc Holliday. "Tombstone" garnered mixed reviews but was a surprise hit at the box office.

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