Romeo Must Die

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
Starring: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, Delroy Lindo, Henry O, Edoardo Ballerini, DMX.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, some language and brief nudity.

Review by Matt Heffernan
March 23, 2000

Jet Li has been a major star in Hong Kong since the mid-1980s, but he was relatively unknown in America until his appearance in Lethal Weapon 4. The positive response to his performance led to a successful run of his Hong Kong film Hak Hap (Black Mask) in the U.S. Now he has his first starring role in an American film, with LW4 cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak making his debut in the director's chair.

In Oakland, California, the waterfront is controlled by black and Chinese businesses. Well, they are mostly controlled by the crime families run by Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo) and Ch'u Sing (Henry O). They plan on consolidating the black and Chinese areas, and selling the entire waterfront to Roth (Edoardo Ballerini), a real estate developer who is going to build a football stadium. The rival O'Day and Sing families try to keep their differences aside for mutual benefit, but then somebody kills Ch'u's son, Po (Jon Kit Lee).

Hearing the news, Han Sing (Jet Li) breaks out of a Hong Kong prison to avenge his brother's death. When he arrives in Oakland, he meets Isaak's daughter, Trish (Aaliyah). Together, they try to get to the middle of this shady deal and figure out who was responsible for Po's death.

So, you're probably wondering, "Who is Romeo, and why must he die?" Well, to get the answer, you'll have to sit through over 100 minutes of sometimes inspired, but often meaningless fight scenes, and failed attempts at human drama. I think a certain Mr. Bartkowiak needs to watch The Godfather again before he tries to make another serious mob film. Romeo Must Die is at its best when dramatic pretense is lifted, and a whimsical, almost slapstick, approach is taken. Those were the times that I actually enjoyed the film, only to be let down again by the listless "talky" scenes, which propel the cumbersome plot along.

After a good trim, the film would be much more entertaining, even if it didn't make sense. Bartkowiak takes David O. Russell's inside-the-body trick from Three Kings, only he uses computer graphics instead of anatomical models. It's an interesting effect, and may be the start of a copycat trend. In fact, computer imaging is used a lot to punch up the fight scenes, enhancing the superhuman moves that Li is capable of.

Unfortunately, he isn't capable of superhuman acting, but he does a fair job considering that he doesn't really speak English. At any rate, he's still a lot better than Jean-Claude Van Damme. Then again, just about anybody would be.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Romeo Must Die (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Romeo Must Die (2000) -- DVD
Romeo Must Die: Original Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
Review Archive
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings

Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan