Romeo Must Die
" I will never look at football the same way again! "
- Bentley Siu-Lung
Romeo Must Die (2000)
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Writer: Eric Bernt, John Jarrell, Mitchell Kapner
Producer: Joel Silver, Jim Van Wyck
Action Director: Corey Yuen
Cast: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, DMX, Delroy Lindo, Henry O, D.B. Woodside, Edoardo Ballerini, Jon Kit Lee, Anthony Anderson, Françoise Yip, Tong Lung
Running Time: Too long...
Plot: Two families, bound by tradition, are locked in a brutal war. Asian and African American gangs are vying for control of Oakland's waterfront. But when the first causality is the Asian warlord's son Po, the gang war becomes more dangerous than either side ever imagined. News of the murder gets back to Po's big brother Han, a decorated ex-cop wrongly imprisoned in a Hong Kong jail. And it's only a matter of time before Han makes his way to American shores. An outsider in his own family in search of the truth, Han uncovers nothing except more questions. And he has become a target, not only to the African American camp, but also to faceless assassins whose firepower reaches far beyond the working-class waterfront. In a world of vicious rivalries and violent betrayals, Han has no choice but to declare war himself. But unlike the others, who can only use weapons, Han is a weapon. And falling into his sightlines can be a deadly mistake.
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: 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
RYAN LUNDGREN'S REVIEW: What could have been an interesting film turns into a standard melodrama that is poorly acted by the entire cast with the exception of Jet Li and Russell Wong. Other than these two, the actors are wooden puppets. The worst thing is the martial arts scenes. Jet Li does stuff that defies physics and why? Because of the whole Matrix thing. What's sad is with this Matrix thing, anyone can be a martial arts star - It makes me shudder. The plot is basically 'Romeo and Juliet' with a few twists. If Romeo Must Die, consider him a "dead on arrival".
RYAN LUNDGREN'S RATING: 3/10
YATE'S REVIEW: I rented this film with the lowest of expectations and was somewhat surprised. No, it has nothing on any of Jet Li's Hong Kong flicks. And yes, the majority of the soundtrack and actors and non action scenes suck. But heh, it's a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Jet Li had such a great screen presence it is hard to keep your eyed off of the guy. And whenever Jet is not in the movie, the movie absoulutely sucks. Excrutiatingly bad humour, music, and some crappy subplot dealing with the buying of an NFL team. Aaliyah is decent as the female lead, and so is that one fat dude who provides the comic relief. Mosly I recommend this film for it's great set peices, the most memorable being the most kickass football game ever filmed. No matter how shitty the movie is, Jet Li will always rule.
YATE'S RATING: 7/10
JAMES H'S REVIEW: 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
RINTOR'S REVIEW: 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
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: Some cool opening credits, a bit of impressive digital effects, groovy camera angles, and most of all, Aaliyah, who is now, officially, multi-talented. That girl can act as good as she sings! As far as Jet Li - he shines. Like Bruce, Jackie and Chow, he has an amazing screen presence that engulfs the viewers (a good example of someone that doesn't is co-star Russell Wong). Isaiah Washington and Jon Kit Lee (The Corruptor) also give us some worthwhile performances, as well as that fat bodyguard of Aaliyah's (his name?), who sports some witty comic relief. There was also some action scenes here and there that were pretty good not to mention some swift moves by Jet Li.
Director Andrzej Bartkowiak should stick to cinematography. I take that back, this WAS his first directorial feature so I'll try to be a little nice. At least he didn't direct some dopey "Coolio" video. Wait, I take that back again...this whole goddamn movie was like a bad, 90-minute long, rap video featuring Jet Li in a few, Corey Yuen-choreographed fights, ruined by bad editing. The result: slop!
Okay, I'll try to say this without sounding like a racist - which I'm totally against (my first girlfriend was black so there. Uh, anyways...), I understand that a good majority of fans in the martial arts film genre is black. I'm cool with that. But this 24/7 hip-hop soundtrack drags on way too much. I'm an avid fan of rap, hip-hop or whatever the hell they call it these days but man...limit yourselves! Even Stanley Clarke's score was...why don't I just say it didn't fit. It sounded like a soundtrack to an afterschool special or something.
Enough with the rap bashing...
For some reason, this high-budget film seemed very low-budget. I see Joel Silver's name on it and I say to myself, "where did all the money go??" Maybe all those fancy cars? The digital effects? Or maybe paying all the rap artists to write songs for the movie? (oh yeah, almost forgot, no more rap bashing). Who knows, who cares...all the money in the world couldn't save this script from being a good movie. And that IS the main problem, the script. I've seen some "Bruce Li" films that have more taste in plot than this does.
The only thing that can make this film a tad better was if they fired DMX. But that's too late. The movie has already been made and DMX has already been paid. How is that for rap?
And what about that guy who played the greedy "NFL" dealer? Where the hell did this guy come from? An extra from Don 'The Dragon' Wilson's "Bloodfist" series??
The whole scene with Jet using Aaliyah as a weapon was an embarrassment to all fans of Hong Kong Cinema.
A few words for Jet Li and Jackie Chan on working in the US. I don't know how much power you guys have choosing on who you're gonna work with, but try using someone that has experience. I'm not talking music-video experience, editing experience, cinematography experience or make-up experience. I'm talking FILM EXPERIENCE. Hey Joel, next time get those two guys that did The Matrix to direct!
Bottom Line: I don't care if this is a so-called "Hip-Hop meets Kung-fu Flick", it's still tacky and just plain sucks!
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 4/10 (one of these points is for the nipple shot at the beginning of the film!)
BENTLEY SIU-LUNG'S REVIEW: One word...WHOA!!! I went into the theaters not knowing what to expect. I mean, it is Jet Li, it is produced by the dudes who produced "The Matrix", and the fight coreography is by Cory Yuen. But I then realized that this was the director's first film. I hoped that he would be successful first time around. I mean, the guy who directed "The Replacement Killers" directed that as his first film and it was great. But that was a different director and a different movie. When I saw the Warner Bros. logo, I clenched my seat hoping for the best...I came out happy. The fights in this film are some of Li's best since "Fist of Legend". Thanks to him, I will never look at football the same way again! There are about 8 fights in this film, all in which are outstanding:
The special effects that are used in the fight scenes are very remenescent to "The Matrix" and the use of "X-ray fatalities", used three times, were awesome! The rap music was better in this since it adapted to the story more, unlike Black Mask's CONSTANT use of rap music EVERY DAMN SECOND!!!!! The acting was also very good, as well as the story which was very good. The title is misleading as it makes it sound like a Romance/ Action/ Drama film. Sure it does have action, drama, some bits of comedy, but very little romance which isn't really shown until the end of the film. I loved the film, except during the fight in the office with Jet Li fighting Maurice and his buds, when the film all of a sudden started to melt!!!!! Everybody was pissed and we all had to go to the other theater which was about a half hour behind. So I basically saw the film 1.5 times! Thank god it was playing in two theaters!!! The end fight between Jet Li and Russel Wong was one of the greatest fights I've seen ever in a martial arts film!!! Wait until you see how the fight ends...you will be shocked! (Hint: it uses the x-ray technique...) This is actually one of the best H.K.-U.S. action/ martial arts films I've ever seen. So what are you doing still reading this? GO SEE THIS MOVIE NOW!!!!!!!!!!
BENTLEY SIU-LUNG RATING: 10/10