The soundtrack album to the new Jet Li thriller is the most pretentiously presented release I have received in some considerable time. For those film music purists who do not know, Craig Armstrong is the man behind the Specteresque wall-of-sound tracks to Romeo + Juliet (1997), Plunkett and Macleane (1999) and Moulin Rouge (2001), this current release being pitched between conventional modern electro-orchestral score and minimal dance music. The opening track is a moody electro-Goth ballad, "As If You Said Nothing" with an attractive French-inflected vocal by an uncredited female singer. Surely the entire vocal track can not be a sample? Whatever, it seems strange given the number of credits included in the booklet that the singer is not named.
The remainder of the album, nineteen tracks in all, is titled "Symphony For Isabelle", and here is where the pretension begins. We are not told who Isabelle is, but may assume she is the actress Isabelle Duhauvelle who plays a character called Isabel in the film. There is no given reason why the nineteen tracks should be dedicated to her. Nor is there a reason why they should be dubbed a symphony. They are not. They are nineteen score cues mixing orchestral action and suspense material with polished electronic production and dance elements. There is no symphonic form or development at all. And finally, in keeping the with black artwork and mood of pretentious undergraduate Gothicness, the cues are not named. The clincher though is that Kiss of the Dragon is produced by the director of Nikita, Luc Besson.
There is a lot of moody elector-acoustic soundscaping, much of which is frankly dull. Between these passages, the sort of thing anyone who knows their way around a decent MIDI/sampler set-up can put together in an afternoon or two, there are some rather more interesting action cues. "Movement 5" won't appeal to fans of conventional orchestral film music but it does manage to fuse a fairly memorable tension building riff with some well programmed, alternately driving and understated percussion. At the end of the cue Armstrong even manages to work in a homage to Psycho's shower murder. The mood of much of the material in this vein is reminiscent of the brooding/explosive rock-action scoring of The Assassin (Point of No Return) (1993) by Hans Zimmer. Which is perhaps more than coincidental given that Kiss of the Dragon is a cynical espionage thriller set in Paris and The Assassin was a remake of Nikita (1990), a cynical espionage drama set in Paris. Even less coincidentally, both The Assassin and Kiss of the Dragon have Bridget Fonda as their female lead.
Finally there are the romantic orchestral cues, most significantly the closing piece which is a haunting string laden number with wordless choral accompaniment which suggests a profoundly downbeat ending. It has an appealing bleak nobility augmented by a spare piano solo performed by the composer, and is by far the most notable thing on the disc from a regular film music perspective. Those with a distaste for electronics should stay well away while others with more Catholic tastes may find more to enjoy. The dance elements are no so forward as to be completely alienating but nevertheless there are long stretches of programmed material which is best programmed out. Hardcore fans of the film however may love it all. Given the nature of the movie they may even consider the album "kickin'".
Gary S. Dalkin