Main cast: Jet Li (Han Shin), Aaliyah (Trish O’Day), Delroy Lindo (Isaak O’Day), Henry O (Chu Sing), Russell Wong (Kai), Edoardo Ballerini (Roth), DMX (Silk),
DB Woodside (Colin O’Day), Anthony Anderson (Maurice), and Isaiah Washington (Mac)
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
The idea is inspired. I mean, Chinese martial arts meet black hip-hop and firearms. And put in a star-crossed interracial romance, and the result is something irresistible. It also helps that I’m a fan of hunks Jet Li and Russell Wong and I dig Aaliyah’s music.
The Oakland waterfront is ruled by rich families the Shins and the O’Days. When plans are made to build a multi-million dollar stadium here, both families start fighting for the lion’s share. When the youngest Shin is found dead after a skirmish in an O’Day-run nightclub, things get ugly.
Our hero Han is serving prison term when he heard of his beloved brother’s death, and he breaks out in a style that makes MacGyver looks like a dunce. Han goes to Oakland to avenge his brother. He meets Trish, the O’Day daughter who doesn’t want anything to do with her family’s illegal activities. Soon both get really tangled up into their families’ crossfires.
I love it when Romeo Must Die starts delivering the fight scenes. Jet Li displays fluid dexterity and flexibility that can take the breath away. He has also a disarmingly boyish presence – when he smiles almost shyly, I can’t help but to sigh. His English dialogues do sound subdued, but even so, he is irresistible as a reliable superhero. And Aaliyah makes a perfect ice princess who has Han twisted around her little finger. She oozes poise and sophistication in icy regal classiness. Watch out for the scene where she is “taught” by Han to fight a female villain!
Everything is exaggerated here, wonderfully so. From the loud hip hop rhythms blended wonderfully with Chinese ceremonial traditions, everything works like an utterly campy cult classic. But the movie falters when it starts preaching about peace and family. This one isn’t a substantial movie, heck, it shouldn’t even try to be. No self-respecting cult movie dares to be preachy.
From the prison breakout to the final battle scenes, Romeo Must Die is fun, camp, and adrenaline rush all the way, bogged down in the middle by preachy moralizing. But what the heck, I love this movie.