Romeo Must Die (2000) - USA
As part of the ongoing Film Critics Series - “Analysing Jet Li in Hollywood”
Reviewed by Andrew Chan (Film Critics Circle of Australia)
In many ways, Jet Li’s first English Language leading role in “Romeo Must Die” remains a breakthrough for Hollywood in its depiction of combo of Asian and Black representation and interracial relationships ended up being a good thing for Hollywood. Putting this aside, “Romeo Must Die” fails in many departments as first time director and long time Polish cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak over edits the fight sequences and skimmed through the muddled plot line. Hong Kong action director Corey Yuen tries hard to craft some interesting set pieces including the creative American football scene, the motorcycle fight and the escape from Hong Kong prison by Jet Li. Still, the film comes up short to be something more than mindless entertainment.
Jet Li plays “Romeo” with plenty of usual charm, limited English and fluid in all fight sequences. Li pairs well with late pop star Aalilyah and the two makes a cute couple. It’s fun seeing Li attempts to chase Aalilyah. It’s disappointing that the two shared a hug to end the film, rather than a passionate kiss to round out the proceedings. Delroy Lindo plays the black gangster boss and father with steady demeanour, meanwhile Russell Wong shines as the key villain with extended screen time to showcase his martial arts prowess and the Chinese triads number two man. DMX comes thru in a cameo that would later become “Cradle 2 the Grave” and Anthony Anderson comes up far too annoying than funny.
All in all, “Romeo Must Die” is a better opener for Li than “The Replacement Killers” was for Chow Yun Fat. The overuse of computer generated effects undermined the martial arts quality of its main star. Li is obviously struggling with on-screen dialogue, but more than compensated with his natural charisma and charm. Producer Joel Silver would continue to work with Li for a few more films, but none of them really hits the mark totally. Still, for the year 2000, having an Asian leading man in a blockbuster Hollywood production stands out of the pack. As for Jet Li, it shows that he is truly an international superstar.
I rated it 6/10