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Jet Li beats up the French; 2 new Gundams invade America

July 12, 2001
By Franklin Harris

There isn't much to say about Jet Li's new martial arts thriller, "Kiss of the Dragon."

Is it as good as Li's Hong Kong films? No. But is it fun to see Li beat up a bunch of smarmy Frenchmen? You bet.

Li stars as a Chinese agent summoned to Paris to help catch a Chinese smuggler operating there. He teams with French police inspector Jean-Pierre Richard (Tchéky Karyo), who, we quickly learn, plans to kill the smuggler and frame Li for the murder.

Richard's plan remains fuzzy, but that isn't important. The whole point is to set Li's character on the run, thus ensuring that he will have to face an army of goons single-handed.

The result is that we get to see a lot of Paris and even more of Li's martial arts talents, as he rather brutally dispatches Richard's henchmen.

And when Li can't beat them up, he zaps them with acupuncture needles.

Bridget Fonda co-stars as the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold and reluctant witness who can clear Li's name. Her connection to Richard strains credulity, but if plot mattered, people wouldn't make over-the-top martial arts movies, now would they?

In one neat bit of casting, Burt Kwouk, who was Inspector Clouseau's homicidal butler, Cato, in the Pink Panther movies, plays Li's Paris contact.

There may be a billion Chinese, but it seems only one of them lives in Paris.

Luc Besson, who is best known for directing "La Femme Nikita," serves as the film's producer and co-screenwriter. And one reason "Kiss" looks as good as it does is because Besson loaned first-time director Chris Nahon the services of cinematographer Thierry Arboghast, who worked on most of Besson's films.

If you like what you see of Li here, check out his far superior Hong Kong films, including "Black Mask" and the "Once Upon a Time in China" series.

New 'Gundam' suits up

While Li kicks it up at the box office, a Japanese classic prepares to hit American television.

On July 23, Cartoon Network will launch two new Gundam series. The first is the original "Mobile Suit Gundam," which airs at 4 p.m. as part of Cartoon Network's Toonami block.

"Mobile Suit Gundam" first aired in 1979, so its animation is a bit primitive by today's standards. It certainly isn't as slick as "Gundam Wing," which aired on Cartoon Network last year.

While "Gundam Wing" is set in an alternate timeline, "Mobile Suit Gundam" forms the core of the main Gundam saga.

In the year Universal Century 0079, war has broken out between Earth and one of its space colonies, the Archduchy of Zeon.

Zeon manages to gain the advantage thanks to its new mobile suit technology, but the Earth Federation has one last hope — a super mobile suit called the Gundam.

During a Zeon attack, the Gundam falls into the hands of a young, untested pilot named Amuro Ray and the equally green crew of the Federation spaceship White Base.

But it turns out that the Gundam is exactly where it needs to be, because Amuro secretly holds the key not just to Earth's victory but to the next stage in human evolution.

Meanwhile, the Zeons have their own ace pilot, Char Aznable, but he too has his secrets. One threatens to destroy the Zeon royal family, while the other makes him Amuro's greatest rival.

"Mobile Suit Gundam" was the series that started Japan's giant robot craze, which eventually spread to America via series like "Robotech" and "The Transformers." But this will mark the first time that the original Gundam has aired here.

The second new Gundam series brings the war to Earth.

"Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team," is also set during the 0079 war and follows the adventures of a ground-based Federation unit as it tries to defend the Earth from Zeon invaders.

The series premieres on Cartoon Network at 11 p.m., and for now it will air only during the Toonami Midnight Run block.

As one of the more recent Gundam series, "The 08th MS Team" boasts animation at least equal to that of "Gundam Wing," and the story is arguably better. So, if you'd rather not wait more than a week to see "The 08th MS Team," the first DVD and video are now available.

Bandai Entertainment will release the first volume of "Mobile Suit Gundam" on DVD and home video in August.

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