Turn Back the Clock
Action / Martial Arts
Romeo Must Die
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When Romeo Must Die first appeared in the theaters in the year 2000, it was all about action and the blending of the martial arts and hip-hop cultures. Jet Li and Russell Wong represented the martial arts side while singers Aaliyah and DMX represented the hip-hop scene. Everyone was happy until they discovered that DMX was barely in the film…but I digress. I was unable to see the much-hyped Romeo Must Die in the theaters, but rushed to see the film once it arrived on video. It remains one of my favorite modern martial arts flicks to date.
Jet Li portrays Han Sing, a former Hong Kong police officer imprisoned after taking the fall for his father and brother who have since escaped to America to lead a faction of the Triad there. Han Sing escapes prison upon learning of his brother’s murder and heads off to Oakland, California to find his brother’s killer. His search leads him to Trish O’Day (Aaliyah), owner of the business whose telephone number is the last dialed by Han’s brother.
Trish is the daughter of Isaak O’Day (Delroy Lindo), the Sings’ rival crime syndicate leader. It is revealed that the O’Day clan and the Sing syndicate have been involved in an uneasy alliance, securing all of the waterfront property in the area so that it can be sold to a rich entrepreneur planning on building a new NFL stadium in the area. Han approaches Trish in an effort to discover what exactly happened to his brother the day he died. Shortly afterwards, Trish’s brother is killed and the two join forces, believing that the two murders have to do with more than a simple turf war.
But as their investigation digs deeper and things get more dangerous, will they be capable of handling the truths they uncover. Or will learning the truth be enough to destroy them both?
Romeo Must Die represented Jet Li’s breakout role in American film and Aaliyah’s debut as an actress. Jet Li was absolutely amazing in this film with his lightning-fast martial arts moves. And of course, he is absolutely adorable in his scenes with Aaliyah. Surprisingly, Aaliyah’s debut role revealed that she had some real acting talent. It is unfortunate that her life was cut short so soon - she truly could have had a long run as a singer and actress. Russell Wong is incredibly hot as Kai, Ch’u Sing’s right hand man and former friend of Han Sing. Isaiah Washington is downright despicable (very true to character) as Mac, Isaak O’Day’s right hand man.
Much is said about the Romeo/Juliet theme of the film…the Sing/O’Day union represented by Han and Trish. While the two characters have an obvious interest in each other, they are more interested in bringing their brothers’ killers to justice. The romance is placed off to the side and barely touched. This is an action film, first and foremost.
When The Matrix appeared in movie theaters, it represented a new era in action fight scenes. Through the use of computers and lead wires, anything was possible. Romeo Must Die was the next in this new line of enhanced action flicks and featured some amazing fight scenes. Of course, you could tell that some of the action taking place was impossible without special effects and lead wires, but the scenes were so amazing, you simply didn’t care. One of the best fight scenes is preceded by a motorcycle/car chase and involves Han Sing using Aaliyah to execute moves against a female biker/assassin. The ultimate fight scene takes place at the end of the movie, but I’m not going to spoil it for you.
Of course, every action film has to have a little comedic release. Anthony Anderson supplies this perfectly as Maurice, one of Isaak O’Day’s henchmen. His antics and his constant embarrassment at the hands of Han Sing and Trish O’Day are immensely funny and serve as intermission to all the serious action taking place.
The music of Romeo Must Die was a hip-hop/R&B bonanza. It featured songs like Try Again by Aaliyah featuring Timbaland (my favorite track), Come Back in One Piece by Aaliyah and DMX, Perfect Man by Destiny’s Child, Simply Irresistible by Ginuwine and more. Aaliyah appears on four songs in the Romeo Must Die soundtrack, and why not - she is one of the stars in the film after all.
The DVD edition of the film contains the video for Try Again and Come Back in One Piece. It also contains featurettes explaining the various stunts in the film, the fight scenes and Matrix-like action, the bone-breaking special effects, the making of the Try Again video and more. Sticking the DVD into the DVD-ROM player on your computer allows you to access even more special features, including an interactive game and trailers for more films.
Romeo Must Die is an incredibly fun movie. It turned me on to the action hero that is Jet Li and I have made every effort to see each film he has made since. The film represented a successful blend of the Hip-Hop and Martial Arts cultures and would inspire the creation of more films blending the two genres such as Cradle 2 the Grave. The storyline is believable and the actors are enjoyable. Jet Li, Aaliyah and Russell Wong give this film a very sexy quality and that, combined with the action in the film, make Romeo Must Die a film you will want to watch again and again.