Romeo Must Die
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Martial arts director: Corey Yuen
Stars: Jet Li, Aaliyah
A disgraced Hong Kong cop (Li) escapes from prison after learning about his brother's death at the hands of a rival gang. He comes to America seeking revenge, but things begin to complicate after he develops a relationship with the rival gang leader's daughter (Aaliyah).
My hopes weren't too high for Romeo Must Die, since it seemed to have so many things going against it. For starters, it's yet another "hip" re-telling of a classic story (this time it's Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, in case you didn't realize), something that has been done to death in Hollywood recently. I'm also growing very tired of this whole "kung-fu/hip-hop" combo various media outlets are trying to push down our throats in order to kill two demographics with one stone. (I like kung-fu, I like hip-hop, but there's no reason why they have to always be presented together as seems to be the case these days.) Jet Li's English is still not very good, and co-star Aaliyah has never starred in a film before. Plus add in the fact that you have a first-time director and a producer that was calling the film "West Side Story meets The Matrix" and you could have had a huge mess on your hands.
While Romeo Must Die is not the film many fans were hoping for, it still provides Li with a credible break into the US market (I'm not counting his "starring" role in Lethal Weapon 4, which felt like nothing more than a glorified cameo). Don't get me wrong -- it's not a great film by any means. But if you look at recent crap like Mission to Mars and Eye of the Beholder, you realize how much worse things could have been.
Romeo Must Die's main problem is the lack of a coherent script. Whoever wrote this drivel should be shot (or at least have their typing fingers broken). The plot has so many holes, it's ridiculous -- and even the naïve teenagers in the audience were able to guess the big "plot twist" a mile away. Some of this might be forgivable if it was an original script. But how can you mess up a story that has been around for hundreds of years? People around the 'net have said that the first draft of the script was actually worse -- that's scary.
As it stands now, not only is the plot poorly constructed, but the dialogue is horrible as well. There are a few gems scattered about the film, but mostly we get lines like "If your ass ain't black get outta here before I put a cap up in your ass." Boy, that's brilliant. That kind of "gangsta" schtick lost its appeal a long time ago, and hearing it constantly for two hours only made the situation worse. Chris Tucker's annoying performance in Rush Hour is stunning by comparison -- at least he moved out of the realm of stereotype and caricature.
The script also fails to provide a strong villain, which means there's little motivation for the characters. In fact, for most of the film, the actors look like they're sleepwalking (part of this may be due to the direction, which is haphazard to say the least, but actors can't act without a decent script). When a villain is finally introduced, it comes off a weak plot twist. It amazes me that this script even made it to the front door of a studio; it doesn't even follow the basic rules of a drama. It's as if someone just said, "Okay, we want some funny black guys like Rush Hour, some wire-fu like The Matrix, some tough gangsters like Boyz in the Hood..." and some intern just typed something up. It's ridiculous. I seriously feel that if someone looked hard at this script and cut out a lot of the excessive garbage (like a useless sub-plot about the gangsters trying to buy a NFL team and some sappy melodrama) out of this almost two-hour movie, we could have had a great 90-minute action/comedy.
Like Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die's saving grace is Jet Li. His English isn't perfect (in fact, he speaks Manadrin during the dialogue-heavy scenes) but he displays a real flair for comedy and manages to look tough enough when the movie calls for it. Action-wise, Romeo Must Die does fairly well. The fights were staged by long-time Li collaborator Corey Yuen and feature plenty of high-flying wire-fu. In fact, it might be too much for some peoples' tastes, but I feel there are a lot worse things one could see in a movie than Jet Li beating the hell out of someone with a fire hose, or taking out a group of prison guards while hanging upside-down, or turning a pick-up foot ball game into a melee. The only real problem with the action sequences is that they're too short, especially considering the amount of talking surrounding them.
Hopefully, Jet Li can work with a good director and -- more importantly -- a good script for his next US film. He (and his fans) deserve better than Romeo Must Die, which only manages to be slightly above average. When you have the man who's starred in classics like Once Upon a Time in China, slightly above average just isn't good enough.
Click here to view the trailer for this movie (clip courtesy of JoBlo's Trailers)
A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here
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