Romeo Must Die (2000)

Written for Luther College Chips on April 20, 2000

After seeing a solid preview and reading positive advance reviews of “Romeo Must Die,” I had high expectations for the film. The premise was interesting to say the least, a pairing of the familiar “Romeo and Juliet” story with a top Asian film star, sprinkled with plenty of action scenes.

Unfortunately, the setup of “Romeo Must Die” is deceptive. The only remote similarity to “Romeo and Juliet” is concept of the children of warring families falling in love. Beyond that parallel, everything, and I mean everything, is different.

Beyond the love story (which is really non-existent), there are several plot threads going on that eventually tie together involving an NFL expansion team and the mysterious killings of several landowners.

The only real reason to see this film is to witness the talent on display by martial arts expert -Romeo – Jet Li.

Filmgoers may remember Li as the silent bad guy in “Lethal Weapon 4.” A multiple-time Martial Arts World Champion, Li has incredible speed in his fighting scenes and is stunning to see in what end up being brief fight sequences.

The only problem with Li, and this hinders development of any drama whatsoever in the film, is the fact that he can’t speak English at all. The longest line he ever delivered was “You killed my brother. Big Mistake!!” Beyond that, it is all two to three words at a time. Whenever a scene with him called for more dialogue, it was always between two Asian actors and was subtitled.

Li’s fighting is at times enhanced and at other times tampered through the use of big-budget computer editing techniques. While there is a cool x-ray effect employed, the music-video style cutting of much of the action robs Li much of the magic in his style. The camera isn’t held steady on him for very long and many of his moves will be dismissed by unimpressed viewers as simple camera tricks.

The soundtrack also got old very quickly. Pounding rap music would have had its place during certain moments, but it didn’t need to be played during the entire film.

As much as I want to give “Romeo Must Die” an enthusiastic review, I can’t.

Fans of the action film genre who haven’t been exposed to some of what Hong Kong has to offer are really missing out and this film was a great opportunity for Hollywood to get people’s attention.

Hollywood studios have proven over the last five years that they still don’t have a clue as to how Asian action films should be packaged for American audiences. Jackie Chan has had a moderate impact, but nothing has matched the raw force of the John Woo-directed Hong Kong films of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Woo, best known for the thriller “Face/Off,” has done nothing in America that has come close to matching his Hong Kong golden days. Instead of going to “Romeo Must Die,” go dig around the video store and rent “The Killer” or “Hard-boiled.” These films are what Hollywood should be looking at for their benchmarks.

D.S. Christensen
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