A movie attempting to market towards the martial art crowd (as Jet Li movies are among the best today), and the "urban" (read: black) audience with hip-hop hottie Aaliyah. The title is extremely deceptive, as its plot resembles Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet about as much as any other brainless action flick.

However, as everyone else notes, it should definitely be seen for the sweet CGI effect the special effects guys call "Ultra Pain Mode" in which they switch the view into an x-ray vision view where you can see all the bones Li's breaking.

I remember this movie in particular because it made me aware that pratically every single stunt now being done in Hollywood action flicks is now being done with wire work and blue screens. There's one fun football scene in where on the DVD I found they didn't even use a football, they digitally added it later. Bleh!

Romeo Must Die is a film, first released in 2000, that is essentially a martial arts-based (supposed) retelling of the classic Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet. The film stars Jet Li as the figurative Romeo and the late Aaliyah as the figurative Juliet. It was directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak and written by Mitch Kapner with a little help from elsewhere. It was produced by Silver Pictures and distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. It runs for one hour and fifty five minutes. It is currently available on VHS and DVD formats.

This is more of a pure action movie than a romance, as Li plays an ex-cop (Han Sing) investigating the murder of his brother, who had ties with the Chinese mafia in America. Aaliyah portrays Trish O'Day, the daughter of the head of a competing American crime family, who uses her close ties to help Han Sing (Li) solve the case. Mostly, the movie dissolves into a kung-fu fest, much like you would expect from a movie starring Jet Li. The cast also features Isaiah Washington and rapper DMX in a minor role.

The film was marketed to appeal both to fans of martial arts movies as well as to an urban audience, but in various ways seemed to wind up not really appealing to either one. Martial arts fans were mostly disappointed by the heavy use of computer-enhanced fighting in many places where it wasn't really needed; it seemed as though this film wanted to be as groundbreaking as The Matrix but the Wachowski brothers beat them to the punch and made it look better. Watch The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the earlier Iron Monkey and you'll immediately see that the techniques used here are being surpassed elsewhere, both in technique and in plot. The urban crowd took one look at the film's heavy marketing of Jet Li as the main figure and instead decided to pick up the soundtrack (featuring Aaliyah and DMX) instead. In other words, the movie was a big box office disappointment.

The story also is extremely loose with its supposed basis, Romeo and Juliet. Rather than trying something truly creative with this film (and perhaps making something vaguely as interesting as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), the makers instead simply threw out huge chunks of the play in order to make room for badly-done computer altered fight scenes. Jet Li jumping in the air thirty feet and kicking in eight directions simultaneously (and poorly done, at that) without a decent plot to back it up makes for something that easily shatters suspension of disbelief.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the film is its nicely done DVD release, which includes eleven (!) documentaries of various length and quality about the making of the movie. The best and biggest one is the "Making of" documentary; others include one covering the making of Aaliyah's "Try Again" video, one that dissects one of the stunts in the film, a short piece about one of the pyrotechnics experts, a short piece about the cinematography, one about the sounds used, and five different short documentaries about five of the better stunts in the film (including one from the most memorable scene in which Jet Li does a variety of things with a fire hose). Also included are two music videos, Try Again by Aaliyah and Come Back in One Piece by Aaliyah and DMX. If you like details on the art of filmmaking, this is a solid DVD release.

The film did not receive any major award nominations, though it did receive three MTV Movie Awards nominations (best fight, best female performance, and best breakthrough female performance (the latter two for Aaliyah)) and a World Stunt Award nomination for best fight. In all, it was largely forgettable.

If you liked this film, try watching The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Iron Monkey. If you haven't seen this film and are considering it, see one of the previous three or, if you really want to see a Shakespearean retelling, go see William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. If you desperately want to see Jet Li, try Kiss of the Dragon. All of these films are significantly better than this one in whatever aspect you're interested in.

I went to see this movie in the theaters, lured by my interest in three things: the plays of William Shakespeare, the city of Oakland, California--where I was living when the movie was released--and the visual ballet of martial arts (and the reputation of Jet Li in this regard).

Romeo Must Die disappointed me on all three counts.

There are two feuding families in the film, and that's where the similarity to Romeo and Juliet ends. The families, one Chinese-American and one African-American, each happen to be heavily involved in crime. Jet Li crosses the territorial and racial divide by enlisting the help of Aaliyah to determine who murderered his brother. There is no romance, just Isaiah Washington pointing a gun at Li and saying, "Sorry Romeo, but you gotta die."

As for the setting: the waterfront of Oakland, I never actually got to see any of it, as the filmmakers attempt to pass off the graceful beauty of Vancouver, British Colombia as vibrant, funky Oakland, California. The choice of Oakland, however strategic it might be to attract African-American audiences, managed to cripple the plot, centered as it was on a feud over which crime family could lure an NFL franchise to the city. To any audience members who follow professional American football, this made no sense as the Raiders had been a fixture in Oakland from 19601982, and returned to the city in 1995.

As for visual ballet, that was absent, too. The use of CGI, wires, and frenetic, music-video style editing obscured any martial arts talent that Jet Li has, except for one scene (where the editor allows you to see him complete his moves) where he beats the crap out of Françoise Yip-- but because his code of honor (or something) prevents him from hitting a woman with his bare hands, he picks up Aaliyah, and uses her as a weapon.

Apart from this brief scene, the only other redeeming features of this movie are the screen presences of Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington, and Russell Wong, who deserve better movies.

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