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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.54%
Worth A Look: 14.42%
Average: 18.27%
Pretty Bad: 19.23%
Total Crap36.54%

7 reviews, 62 user ratings

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Romeo Must Die
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by Greg Muskewitz

"Aerodynamically incorrect."
3 stars

The obvious allusion in the title of "Romeo Must Die" is Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet." Though neither the main male and female protagonists are named either of these, the basic skeleton of the Bard's tragedy are here, but without the tragedy. I'm sure however, that never did Shakespeare see this coming; not just adaptations and transplantations, but the transubstantiation of his work into a martial arts/gangsta flick.

Following along the lines of two fueding families, the press kit for "Romeo Must Die" identifies itself as "two families, bound by tradition, are locked in a brutal war." The two families, one being Asian, the other African-American, act very territorial, and in the opening sequence, one of the sons of the Asian warlord, Ch'u (Henry O) is hung and immediately the blacks are blamed and it's an all out gang war while a white plotter named Vincent Roth (not mentioned in the press kit) has both sides working for him as he tries to buy out all waterfront property so as to build a super-stadium in the middle of the water as he will officially own the NFL.

The African-Americans are led by Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo), who after the death of Ch'u's boy, quickly takes precaution over his two kids, Colin (D.B. Woodside) and Trish (Aaliyah), even though they're the age of adults. Ch'u's other son, Han (Jet Li), or referred to by one of the bad guys as Dim Sung, makes it his quest to find out who was responsible for his brother's death. But along the way Han bumps into Trish, who develop a chemistry, and the two are on each other's side to try to find the truth and get out alive. Of course along the way, many complications arise.
Much of "Romeo Must Die" is heterogeneous; the parts are so unlike however, that it actually kind of works. The beginning is catchy, explosive and loud, but for a while thereafter it kind of drops off and plodds along without minimal development in the story. But then it catches its footing again, and the action picks up where patches of the story leaves you dry. Nothing of "Romeo Must Die" hasn't really been done before. Obviously "Romeo & Juliet" is old news, and the whole gang take was done in the Baz Luhrman version "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet," and even down to the Skeletal Vision, where when someone would get hit hard are punctured into something, an x-ray like close up would go through their body so as to see what bone or organ was obliterated. The video game special effect has already been seen in a more detailed and grotesque effect last year in "Three Kings." But there's been a big scarcity of decent action movies as of lately, and "Romeo Must Die" knows how to pump it up. That doesn't mean however, that it comes without contrivences.

As in any other martial arts movie, the fight scenes are preposterous and overplayed; no person has the agility or stamina to continously fight/battle in a serious brawl like that without fatiguing. A lot of the violence is portrayed as being slapstick funny (like the football scene, where Han gets pounded, but then karates everyone up to get a touchdown). Jet Li is not Jackie Chan, and here they don't go for the real thing a lot. Director Andrzej Bartowiak goes for superimposed fight sequences where Li and Russell Wong will go flying through the air with all sorts of twist points and sudden movements on axis which don't exist. It was totally aeronamically incorrect. The effect, when they're using the effect, look fake and sometimes plain stupid. The audience that I was in with seemed to be easily fooled and believed these were real stunts; a real laugh for those with an untrained eye. But even without that eye, it should be very apparent to what was choreographed and staged, as to what was created as an effect. But the choreography was awesome and very taut. Jet Li is an accomplished martial artist, and we know that going in, but who could have expected that Aaliyah could move with such deadly grace. But a lot of the violence that was cultivated had everybody --including the good guys-- unconcerned with the harmful positions they placed others in.

Sometimes "Romeo Must Die" suffers from the general banality of the genre of movie it is, and even though it isn't always successful, I admire it for trying to take on a different spin with the Shakespeare motif. It tried to be creative, and by doing so, pulled itself out of the barrels of genericitity that otherwise would have been stuck in. Of course there are the typical cliché and "big commerciality" that come with this type of movie, and is added on by the fact that it's got two hugely popular recording artist (so you know the soundtrack will be full of them), not to mention that fact that you cannot go two minutes without some loud rap being blasted through the theater (when the movie started, it was so loud and bombastic that the walls and floor were vibrating, no less our hearts). It's got a large market to sell to, but some of it is just out of the way and derailing.

The screenplay was by Mitchell Kapner who half-heartedly wrote "The Whole Nine Yards," but in both movies, he has a tendency to half-do ideas; something that may start off great loses some wind, and upon that revelation, he just sorta abandons the concept. Since "Romeo Must Die" deals with gangs and hate, the subject of the latter is very prevalent and sometimes uncalled for ("So unless yo' ass is black, get on up outta here!"). It provides a basis for hate and racism because we know it is all too real, and it proves to be often daunting. The director Bartkowiak, an accomplished cinematographer makes this his feature debut, and he shows some style, but too much and too bipolar. It's pretty obvious he has a cinematographer's eye, Bartkowiak has photographed such eye-gasmic movies as "The Devil's Advocate," "Dante's Peak," "Speed," "Species," and "Jade" amongst a host of others. Naturally however, he falls suseptible to all the hip and in technical ploys, so perfected in "Dark City" or "The Matrix," but made to look so imiatative here. Bartkowiak hints at a skill, but buries it beneath the event of itself.

Jet Li, whose English skills are much further along than Chow Yun-Fat's, is still somewhat hard to discern at times. But his timing, accuracy, and martial arts choreography are impeccible (except when it looks fake). Li is a good action/stunt performer/star, but nothing beyond. Worth a mention to fizz out some of the hype or talk is DMX's performance, or moreover, walk-on. He's advertised as being a major player in the movie but turns up for a total of three scenes. It's hardly worth mentioning otherwise, and he proves to be a little stiff. Isaiah Washington is on the otherhand, overdone, but at least he gets the chance to let it loose after the subdued, but very good performance in "True Crime." Russell Wong, who I briefly mistook for Li in the opening is more poised, more distinguishable, more understandable, but a lot less present. I have a feeling however that it was to our benefit because I don't believe he would have been able to keep it up for long. On the very positive side is Delroy Lindo, fresh from the bruising and over-riped "The Cider House Rules," as the head of the Black family, is nicely assimilated and holds his ground more than anyone else in the veteran category of this cast. Even more than O, whose physigonomy and devious plotting add for some dissimilitude. However, the newest, and best of the cast is singer Aaliyah! I am very surprised and impressed with the poise and talent she carried herself around in for her character. I can't say I was skeptical about her prior to, because I didn't pay it much attention, but Aaliyah is already an accomplished recording artist, and now a multi-faceted actioneering actress. She more than adeptly handles her lines, delivery and choreography. Though some necessary motivation or fusion was missing between her character and Li's, I very much await an encore in some capacity, and not in concert.

As much as "Romeo Must Die" is flawed, it does it darndest to reach out of the ever-constricting rules of the genre and homages of cliché, it makes progress by trying out something a little different, and something a little more fun. But a mere disappointment in a bay of a few, is the compromised ending which, though closer to "Hamlet," still is hackeyed and even further from the "Romeo and Juliet" ending. Now that, would have been a show stopper!

Final Verdict: B-

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originally posted: 03/23/00 03:31:26
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User Comments

7/27/11 Ronin Not that bad but only thanks to Jet Li. 3 stars
7/05/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess The fights were the only good thing about it 2 stars
8/15/08 Shaun Wallner The Action was Amazing! 5 stars
6/04/06 William Goss Decent action not nearly enough to salvage it. Oh, when I say it ain't Shakespeare... 2 stars
4/02/06 Peter De La Rosa Jet and Aliahah are all this has going for it. 3 stars
2/01/06 Ronin Could be better, but certainly not THAT BAD! 3 stars
8/27/05 Rever_Bear-Trap Not too bad... One of Li's better American films! 4 stars
7/22/05 ct to me it was good.its not that bad 4 stars
3/13/05 Clooney is ugly I don't remember it being that bad 3 stars
4/06/04 grace it was fantastique 4 stars
7/06/03 Jack Sommersby Clunky, overedited action and bland characters. A real stinker. 1 stars
7/04/03 lee cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
3/21/03 jacksona damm! this movie is tha best movie I have seen damm! it was kool, awesome, tight, the best! 5 stars
10/23/02 palaboy101 Watch it to see Aaliyah. Otherwise, rent The One or Kiss Of The Dragon instead. 3 stars
4/13/02 Dom Corleone Incredibly bad 1 stars
2/02/02 Andrew Carden Other Then A Few Good Fight Scenes, The Movie Suffers From A Flimsy Storyline. 2 stars
12/10/01 Tam Shit storyline & mediocre screenplay. You'd be better entertained by picking your nose. 1 stars
11/01/01 ?? they all look like they're not amused ANY TIME IN THE FILM 3 stars
9/28/01 faurgabriel very good 3 stars
9/05/01 Butterbean Empty film, but great action. R.I.P Aaliyah! 3 stars
8/04/01 sarah It was action packed & love the funky music 4 stars
7/11/01 kaylea russell wong is gorg and its such a cool film yeah 5 stars
4/16/01 Tam Put me to sleep. Predictable storyline, unbelievable special effects. Great soundtrack tho 1 stars
3/25/01 Sid 6.7 A ho-hum Jet Li actioner that substitutes his panache for pitiful special effects 1 stars
3/19/01 Bruce Good movie, bad title 4 stars
2/14/01 CJ O' Callaghan this film really pissed me off- its the same old shit 2 stars
12/26/00 Piotr Only thing that iritated me was the hollywood slow-mo (bs) fist of legend still rules 4 stars
12/03/00 tom calder it is the best movie i have seem in my life 5 stars
11/17/00 Miranda Lee This film is WICKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/04/00 The Extreaminizer I only watched an hour of it............Joel Silver's stuff rules, but what happened? 1 stars
8/30/00 Dan B. A Chinese hit-man fighting a disco afro haired DJ. Gimme a break! 1 stars
6/14/00 FREDDIE UM not as good as i excpected 1 stars
6/12/00 MR joel harwood A bit dodgy 1 stars
5/02/00 mop Expect Jet Li to kick the most ass and everything else to be silly and you'll like it. 4 stars
4/25/00 John Lyons Not a bad movie if you don't expect a lot. 4 stars
4/19/00 TRC_872 Average story, Same great Jet Li! Fist Of Legend is better though 4 stars
4/18/00 MAD DOG the moves may look fake but the movie rocks 5 stars
4/11/00 kohawk hel-lo? All of a sudden, w/ no warning, jetli can defy fucking gravity?? How absurd!? 2 stars
4/08/00 Willie Marshment I wish the karate guy would have dropped his pants and showed his crankshaft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
4/07/00 nootch Cable fight scenes are classic and look cool. This was better than any Jackie Chan flick! 4 stars
4/06/00 jonj what a crapfest 1 stars
4/02/00 Captain Highcrime Holy moly massa, where all the white people go? 2 stars
4/01/00 Mr Happy The movie got crappy after the brief Asian nipple flashing. 1 stars
3/31/00 Angel Rei ugh.....i was drug to this film not expecting much and let me tell you, i wasnt let down. 2 stars
3/31/00 sol The fight scenes are _supposed to_ look fake. It's classic HK/Cantonese martial arts. 3 stars
3/30/00 Tony C. Jet Li is great - in "Once Upon A Time In China" 1 stars
3/30/00 Wez The biggest piece of crap since Supernova came out a couple months ago! Pure CRAP! 1 stars
3/30/00 amy r. dawson jet li rocks. 5 stars
3/29/00 malcolm Aaliyah was very good. check Li's Chinese films for much better kung fu action. 3 stars
3/27/00 m.b. slow paced at times, but overall cool. Aaliyah's the bomb! 4 stars
3/25/00 Piz Worth a look for Li's action, but there could've been more considering the feeble script 3 stars
3/25/00 Shawn Burden Piece of Shit! 1 stars
3/25/00 Drano Check out "Fist of Legend" Jet Li is excellent 3 stars
3/25/00 mrenwick YAAAWWNNNN...Li's Hong Kong flicks are 400 times better than this derivative crap. 2 stars
3/24/00 TimmyToday Everyone is Kung-Fu Fighting!! 4 stars
3/24/00 Pedro Sancho The best action movie ever 5 stars
3/24/00 Justine Briggs Kind of dumb, but I thought Aaliyah was very good. 3 stars
3/23/00 Laura It was a little reminicent of the Street Fighter movies (with the x-ray vision and all) 4 stars
3/18/00 mvayding "The most action packed film I have ever seen!" 5 stars
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  22-Mar-2000 (R)


  11-May-2000 (MA)

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