Romeo Must Die (2000) Review

"Romeo Must Die" American Theatrical Poster

“Romeo Must Die” American Theatrical Poster

Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Producer: Joel Silver, Jim Van Wyck
Cast: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, DMX, Delroy Lindo, Henry O, D.B. Woodside, Edoardo Ballerini, Jon Kit Lee, Anthony Anderson, Francoise Yip, Tong Lung

By Numskull

Once upon a time (though presumably not in China), someone said, “Let’s take someone who has sold a lot of records but has never starred in a movie and team her up with the bad guy from Lethal Weapon 4. One can’t act and the other can barely speak English, so their weaknesses will make both their own and the other’s strengths seem that much more impressive. Gentlemen, I am a fucking genius. I demand the presidency of this company.” Or words to that effect.

As the title implies, this movie is a spin on the story of Romeo and Juliet, with a guy and a girl who become close, against the wishes of their wealthy, warring families/factions. Jet Li’s and Aaliyah’s characters do not fall in love; if they did, the film could be categorized as fantasy just as easily as martial arts/action. She seems to think he’s kinda cute, and he’s just gotten out of (well, escaped from, actually) prison, so pretty much anyone with ovaries is probably gonna look good to him. But, God be praised, that’s as far as it goes. There are occasional stabs at humor, such as the out-of-place football match and pretty much every scene with Maurice, but none of them hits a vital organ.

Jet and Aaliyah both lose their brothers as a result of the feud between black and Chinese gangsters, so they team up to find out, specifically, who the killer(s) is/are. If they paid more attention to camera angles and music cues, they would know which characters their real enemies are…but they don’t, so we watch them plod through a story that vaguely resembles a mystery, at the climax of which we are able to sneer “DUH!” at them. Jet gets into a few fights along the way (Aaliyah helps out in one; they had to give her something to do besides talk), and they’re mostly dull and one-sided. The exception is the final showdown with Russell Wong, who tears some of the skin off of Jet’s badly burned hand and then stomps on it. I don’t know about you folks, but I like the added level of hatred and sadism; fights to the death really shouldn’t be neat and pretty.

Once in a while, it’ll do this stupid-looking x-ray shit during a fight to show a broken bone or something. I found this annoying, but not half as annoying as the presence of the noise pollution known as “rap”. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to hide the fact that I detest rap with considerable intensity, and I resent the hell out of the assumption that it should go hand in hand with martial arts movies, for demographic reasons or whatever. (In his review for Kiss of the Dragon, Dan-O states that the “motherfucker” who adds rap to the fight scenes should be “nailed to an upside-down cross on Sunday in front of the Roman Cathedral.” In the interest of poetic justice, I think the ecclesiastical nature of that particular punishment would be better suited to the likes of Bernard Law and Jerry Falwell, but I whole-heartedly agree with the general sentiment.)

How to tell this movie was released in 2000: the DVD package has no less than four references to The Matrix on it, and in the “making of” featurette, Joel Silver (producer of both films) mentions The Matrix in every other breath, without ever saying the name “Romeo Must Die.”

To summarize: “Ho-hum.” Kiss of the Dragon remains, in my opinion, Jet Li’s best English language film by a comfortable margin (despite the outrageously intrusive and inappropriate rap “songs” during two major fights, including the finale). What a mercy for the deceased Aaliyah that she is remembered more for her recordings than for this here movie. Bleh.

Numskull’s Rating: 5/10

By James H.

I like rap music as much as the next average Caucasian, but the amount of rap music in “Romeo Must Die” is overwhelming. The music in this film is like nothing I have witnessed. It was constant and unrelenting. I began wondering whether the producers were trying to sell Jet Li or the soundtrack. It becomes irritating when you want to hear what the characters are saying, but can’t because the soundtrack is just booming over the actors.

It’s a shame the soundtrack is so loud because there are some very talented actors in the film. Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington, and surprisingly Aaliyah, all give good performances, even if the characters are under developed.

However, the most disappointing thing is that Li’s character (the main character may I remind you) is the most underwritten and one dimensional in the film. This is unfortunate because Li is a fine actor and has a good screen presence, although his English is something to be desired. Not only that, Li and Aaliyah had virtually no chemestry together.

Wait, there’s more. The story and script itself is very amateurish. The subplot involving the NFL seems like it was taken from a generic 70s cop show. As well, the script seems like it is missing some key scenes, and has a lapse in logic. How does Jet manage to get a passport before going to America? He’s a fugitive in Hong Kong, the first thing the police would do is stakeout the airports. Also, how did he know Aaliyah ran that business? Nothing was said to him about it. Other questions that arise are things like, where does he get all of his clothes and money? He didn’t take them from HK. He also drives several different cars, where did he get them all?

But that is neither here nor there. Fights are what put the asses in the seats There are quite a few of them, not to worry. Unfortunately, the fights are not that entertaining or very good for that matter. When watching HK films one can admire that Jet Li is actually hanging from those wires, and while being obviously fake, it is more believable than the use of digital effects on the fights in “Romeo Must Die”. The other problem is that the x-ray shots are not only distracting, but very cartoon-like.

Over all it is not a very entertaining film, and should really be avoided. If Romeo must indeed die, consider it a mercy killing.

James H’s Rating: 4/10

By Rintor

I had basically four reactions to this movie while watching it: DAMN! That was smooth…; Hey, that looked pretty fake…; Where the hell is Jet Li? I thought that he was the main character…; Yes! DMX died. The problem with this movie was that there was not enough of Jet Li and too much story development. Also the computer graphics were not needed. Especially since those are what detracted from the fight scenes. I watch HK movies to try and see the most realistic fighting I can see, and not this computer generated llama-spew. However, there are a some really cool fight scenes. My personal favorites were the Jail Beating and the scene where Jet Li beats the hell out of those guys at the apartment. My main point is that I enjoyed the film and didn’t walk out wanting my money back, and that’s all that really matters right? So, I do recommend that you see this film.

Rintor’s Rating: 7/10

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