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Romeo Must Die

Fans of Hong Kong action had something to celebrate when Romeo Must Die hit the theaters in March of 2000, as the film marked the first American starring role for HK superstar Jet Li, and his second U.S. production (playing the heavy in Lethal Weapon 4, Li made the film a lot better than it had any right to be). Li's relocation to the American film industry has followed on the heels of such Asian action-flick luminaries as Jackie Chan, John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, and Michelle Yeoh, but if Li is somewhat lesser known, he's easily among their peers. His film career in Hong Kong has spanned roughly two decades, where he's been a consistent box-office draw. And if fellow chop-sockey superstar Chan often looks to silent-film comedians like Buster Keaton for his intricately choreographed fight sequences, Jet is the inheritor of Bruce Lee. Chan may be a more popular film star (deservedly so, even), but folks who know will tell you — when it comes to martial-arts action, Jet Li is among the most technically proficient ever. Drawn very loosely from Romeo and Juliet, Li stars in Romeo Must Die as Han Sing, an imprisoned member of a Triad family that fled Hong Kong years earlier, when Han was forced to take the fall for his clan's safe escape to San Francisco. But when a turf war between Asian and black factions erupts in the Bay Area, Han's brother is mysteriously murdered. Successfully escaping from prison, Han sets off to America to find his brother's killer, unaware that he's about to uncover more about his family than he ever wanted to know. He also finds an unlikely ally in Trish (hip-hop star Aaliyah), the daughter of gangster Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo), who, like Han, has no love for her family's racketeering ways. Traitors seem to abound in both camps, who are trying to round up enough waterfront property for a lucrative sale to a business consortium, and as Han digs deeper into the mystery, he discovers that plenty of people would like to see him dead. People line up to see Jet Li movies for one reason — kick-ass fights. Thankfully, Romeo Must Die does not fail to deliver on this count, as Li is given several sequences to unload on multiple thugs. He's a one-man army who always prefers to hand out a beating before he's about to take one, and choice segments include a one-on-one with Russell Wong, as well as a sequence where he uses Aaliyah's arms and legs as a weapon of sorts against a female adversary ("I can't hit a girl!" he explains). And a comic scene where Jet is invited to play some American football with the brothers in the park is about as close to Jackie Chan as he gets. But even if the great action cheats a little with Matrix-style wires at points, the plot of Romeo Must Die is far from threadbare. Unavoidable circumstances force both Han and Trish to confront the true nature of their respective families, only to reluctantly accept that they are rotten at the core. When Han first challenges his father over his brother's death, the scene, delivered entirely in Chinese, could have been lifted from an HK film. "I don't want to lose another son," the father confesses after the heated argument. At another moment, Han finds a deflated basketball in his brother's closet — a ball they clung to as boys when lost at sea, swimming for their lives towards shore, and it is this object that Han clutches at his brother's elaborate funeral. Such understated moments give Romeo Must Die an attractive dramatic dimension, and not one many would expect from an as-advertised action flick. Also starring Isaiah Washington and DMX. Warner's packed DVD edition of Romeo Must Die features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with booming audio in DD 5.1. Extras include four behind-the-scenes features, eight more shorts on various action sequences, an "HBO First Look" featurette, both U.S. and international trailers, the Aaliyah music videos "Try Again" and "Come Back in One Piece," a behind-the-scenes short on one of the videos, and cast-and-crew notes.

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