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Romeo Must Die

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Romeo Must Die

Starring: Jet Li, Aaliyah
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: March 2000
Genres: Martial Arts, Action

*Also starring: Henry O, Delroy Lindo, Edoardo Ballerini, D.B. Woodside, DMX, Francoise Yip, Russell Wong, Isaiah Washington

Review by John Beachem
2 stars out of 4

How exactly does one review a Jet Li movie? I suppose it must be held to a different template than the new film from Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep. Let's face facts, if you're going to "Romeo Must Die" expecting to see Academy Award material, then you obviously haven't seen the previews. You're going to see this movie for bloody, bare fisted, no holds barred style brawling. You are not going for a strong plot, great acting, or important social messages. I went into "Romeo Must Die" expecting to see Jet Li at his gravity defying best, and I'm happy to report that the fight sequences are indeed something to behold. The problem is, these excellent fight scenes are few and far between, and the remainder of the film is filled with useless melodrama that no one could care less about.

A gang war has consumed the bay area of Oakland. The two factions are Issak's (Delroy Lindo) African Americans, and C'hu Sing's (Henry O) Orientals. Both leaders are attempting to sell their bay area property to a greedy business man (Edoardo Ballerini) so that he can develop yet another football franchise. The most recent casualty has been C'hu's son, Po (Jon Kit Lee). This sets off a chain of retaliations from both sides which threatens to destroy everyone. Po's death brings about the return of his brother, Han (Jet Li), from Hong Kong. Han begins investigating the events which caused his brother to be murdered. While investigating, he meets up with Issak's daughter, Trish (Aaliyah), and the two soon form a close friendship. Han must discover who the killers are before they decide to eliminate both he and Trish as well.

If this plot summary sounds a bit confusing that's because this is a rather confusing and convoluted movie. In case you're wondering, it also has very little to do with the bard's tale, aside from the name Romeo being in the title and the story revolving around two warring families. There is no romance between Trish and Han, the families aren't exactly true families (they're just warring gangs), and this story is missing the excellent, comical character of Mercutio. In fact, the lack of humor is one of the problems with this movie. It may have a comical moment or two, mainly because of a supporting character named Maurice (Anthony Anderson) and one or two amusing scenes involving Li, but the majority of the film is incredibly and unnecessarily melodramatic.

As for the actors, it seems that rap singers have been cast in place of actors in most cases. Rapper DMX has been cast as a club manager, and Aaliyah is obviously the female lead. With these two being cast in significant roles, you can guess what kind of soundtrack is going to accompany this film. If you don't like rap music, be forewarned that it doesn't stop playing throughout the entire movie. The other actors are mediocre at best; the only two exceptions being Li himself, who exudes charm, charisma, and strength, and Delroy Lindo ("Broken Arrow"), who is simply a good actor doing what he can with a miserable part. Worth noting is Isaiah Washington ("True Crime"), playing Lindo's right hand man. Washington is an early candidate for a Razzie award this year, turning in an absolutely horrendous performance.

Andrezj Bartkowiak does have one neat little trick up his sleeve. Throughout the fight scenes, we are given occasional x-ray insights of what happens to a person when Li hits them. It's nothing more than a gimmick, but still a rather original one. After watching "Romeo Must Die", I can only hope that Li will be given a better script next time. The man is incredibly talented, and it's no wonder that he is one of the largest film stars in China. I do hope that his next film contains a few more fights and a lot less melodrama. One last thing I must note; several fights in "Romeo Must Die" are blatantly enhanced by CGI. This was completely uncalled for, as it ruins the effect of watching Li do his thing. The movie runs far too long at 118 minutes. I'd recommend it to serious martial arts fans and give it three out of five stars.

Copyright 2000 John Beachem

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