Romeo Must Die (2000) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, some language and brief nudity
Running Time: 115 min.
Cast: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, DMX
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Screenplay: Eric Bernt, John Jarrell
Review published March 28, 2000
War erupts between Oakland's rival African-American and Asian-American crime families when the son of an Asian kingpin is found dead after crashing a Black club. Han Sing (Jet Li, Black Mask), brother of the deceased, escapes from his Hong Kong prison and travels to America to find his killer, and finds himself fighting for survival between power-hungry high-rollers. Gaining assistance from the daughter of a Black gangster (Aaliyah, Queen of the Damned), he sets his sights on getting to the bottom of things if he can survive long enough.
This is Jet Li's first starring vehicle in a US production, and it shows off his formidable fighting talents and innocent charm far better than in his American debut, Lethal Weapon 4. The plot and title stem from some similarities to the famous Shakespeare play, "Romeo and Juliet", but outside of the novelty of two opposite sex protagonists from warring families the similarities end right there.
Polish cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak (Exit Wounds, Cradle 2 the Grave), who also worked with Li on Lethal Weapon 4, makes an impressive debut as a director. The movie as a whole suffers from too much "been there, done that" storyline and from being about a half hour too long.
Despite these relatively minor flaws, Romeo Must Die does feature some very impressive acting, including terrific debut performances by R&B singer Aaliyah and rapper DMX (Belly). The action is less spectacular than Li's Hong Kong films, but should be enough to please his fans, and production is solid all-around. Despite not being fresh enough to rave madly over, this is still worthy of a viewing for action fans and should provide a new fan base for Li here in the States.
©2000 Vince Leo