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Romeo Must Die
Two people from opposite sides of a gang war fall in love as they try to bring peace and resolution to their families and their neighborhood.

Starring Jet Li, Russell Wong, Aaliyah...  View more >

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Please Note: Reader Reviews are submitted by the readers of The BigScreen Cinema Guide and represent their own personal opinions regarding this movie, and do not represent the views of The BigScreen Cinema Guide, or any of its associated entities.

[--- Wait for Rental ---]by  
Jun 11, 2000
The story of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has become so iconic that the story crosses many cultural boundaries. It's a fine framework on which to build a story about rival gangs, eastern vs. western morality and forbidden love. The problem with Romeo Must Die is just as the writer and director start building their clockwork beast, they suddenly stop to admire their work without fleshing it out. It's a creation whose heart pulses to the beat of slick marketing: the world of music video meets Shakespeare. It's an unsteady creation.

The film teeters along a path in which it tries to be an action film while haltingly being an examination of societal boundaries within the code of honor amongst thieves. The story centers on two crime families. One is Asian American. One is African-American. The Asian family is headed by actor Henry O., whose son, Han Sing (Li), a former police officer, is in a Hong Kong prison for an unspecified crime involving his father. In archetypical Hong Kong cinema fashion, the brutal death of Han's brother brings him to America, seeking answers and revenge. The other family is helmed by Isaak O'Day (Lindo), whose daughter and ersatz Juliet, Trish (Aaliyah), wants nothing to do with the family business. Both men are attempting to acquire oceanfront property in a bid to acquire land for a shady developer looking to build an NFL stadium for an Oakland expansion team. Whichever family is able to land the deal will be able to emerge from the shadows of crime into the world of legitimate businessmen.

Kapner and Bartkowiak try too hard to force the disparate themes together. They've culled one of the basic tenets of Hong Kong cinema: a family member being killed and the hero's ensuing search for justice. Rather than the death being affecting, it feels perfunctory. Added to the mix is a distractingly loud urban soundtrack that is a too obvious grab for teenage viewers. (Especially when a song sung by Aaliyah was being played as she was on the screen.) Layered on top of that is the inert "romance" between Trish and Han. Though the pair are intimated as having romantic feelings towards each other, there is nary a kiss or profession of love between them. Perhaps this is a concession to a perceived unmarketability of interracial romance, especially when both parties are minorities? The script lightly touches on the notion of race in America, but with such a feathery touch so as to be almost unnoticeable. Interspersed throughout the film are fight scenes involving Li. These are done to Li's disadvantage.

There are some unique situations for Li to present his on-screen fighting skills. The first being a Houdini-like escape in which he must overcome six prison guards as he is dangling in the air by one foot and handcuffed. It could have been a memorable scene, however, the camera flashes through the action so quickly that the confrontation becomes a blur of colors and noises, rather than a mano-a-mano between men. Other battles are ingeniously set up with Li using props such as a fire hose, a belt and other items. Each scene is compromised by spastic editing that doesn't allow full appreciation of the powerful, yet precise fighting style of Li. During the fights, one can sense the marketing gurus at work. Punches land and bones are broken, but it's done in a bloodless and oddly politically correct manner. One innovation involves showing an x-ray of an opponent as his bone, spine, etc, is broken.

Given the overreach of the material, several performers manage to carry the film on sheer charisma. Aaliyah acquits herself nicely, even being given a crying scene that feels forced and too obvious a showcase for her range. There is promise in her. Li has some moments where he effectively and silently conveys a range of emotions, yet other times he merely occupies the screen. There are snippets of the presence that made him a star in Hong Kong, but this vehicle doesn't allow that persona to fully surface. The always sturdy Lindo gives much needed heft to the proceedings. Wong and Washington both radiate a handsome, leading man glow that dims as they are gradually reduced to mustache twirling villains. Maybe if Romeo must Die had sets its sights a tad lower and gained some focus in the process, it might have been a better showcase for Li and Aaliyah. As it stands, both partially cut through the confused fog to show two emerging Hollywood lights. It's said that a man's reach should exceed his grasp, but in this case, the filmmakers went a bit too far and muddied things by taking on too much.

Review by Scott Hunt Movie Hunt: http://netdirect.net/~hunt/index.html

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