action movie freak    
Romeo Must Die movie poster


"It ain't always about the size of the guns, sometimes it's the bullet."

-"I'm Gonna Crawl" by DMX

(22 March 2000) Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak

Jet Li's speed and martial arts skills, fist fights, close-quarters fights, gun fights, gnarly kills, a motorcycle/car chase, multiple explosions,
and a CGI x-ray gimmick (first seen in The Street Fighter) deliver action in Romeo Must Die like a fist to the chest! When Jet beats up four prison guards while handcuffed and hanging upside down by one leg, you know you're in for some great fight scenes. Producer Joel Silver and Director Andrzej Bartkowiak (fresh off doing Lethal Weapon 4 together with Jet) paired up with Corey Yuen (as martial arts choreographer—he's an action movie God) and John Gaeta's Manex Visual Effects company (they invented "bullet time" for The Matrix) to make a series of seven impressive and entertaining beat-downs in this atypical anti-action-movie-hero action movie.

Note:  I don't want to spoil all the good action scenes in this movie:  I cover all but the one with Aaliyah in this guest spot (5/3/2020-no longer live since site was revised) I wrote for I like that scene so much I wanted to leave it as a surprise.  If you've never seen the movie, watch it and enjoy first before reading this . . .

(General Public Lyrics)
Jet Li burst onto the American movie screen as the bad guy in Lethal Weapon 4. If looks could kill, Jet's icy stare and sex appeal alone were a lethal weapon. His fighting skills were so fast and fierce, they had to ask him to slow his movements down so Mel Gibson could keep up, and they had to use both Mel and Danny Glover at the end to try to take him out, otherwise it wouldn't have been believable—it still wasn't. Jet Li KICKED ASS!

As evil and intense as Jet was in that movie, he's sweet and low key as the lead actor in this one. Romeo Must Die has almost none of the typical trash-talking braggadocio action movies are known for. Li comes off as a Regular Joe, but with mad skills and a grudge. He speaks very little, but each time he is forced to fight, seems to easily win against four to eight guys, and improvises all kinds of weapons and defensive uses for ordinary objects without killing anyone. (The severed-fire-hose-as-a-kusari-gama scene includes a backwards airborne shot through his legs! Just a little phallic—Way to use your 'hose'!)


The typical action movie bad asses are the bad guys, and here it's not good thing. The first time you see them, they're wearing long jackets and sunglasses. Compared to Jet Li as "Han" at 5' 6", Russell Wong as "Kai" is 6', Isaiah Washington as "Mac" is 6' 1", and Trish's father Delroy Lindo as "Isaak" is 6' 4". Everyone but Han thinks he's the shit. Mac and Kai dress to impress, walk with a swagger, and wear shades like they're too cool to take them off at night or inside. This movie is chock full of swinging dicks with fancy clothes, fancy cars, and fancy ideas of who they are ("serious façade"). They're ambitious, greedy, and amoral, and the movie seems to say that these traits will cause your downfall. Most of the mouthing off comes from the comic relief Anthony Anderson who's full of himself, not afraid to show it, and always stealing the show. My favorite moment is when Mac (great name) tries to mack on "Trish" (Mac's daughter played by Aaliyah), gets shot down and storms out. On his way out he has to pass by Anthony Anderson as "Maurice" aka "Moron" who mocks him:  "Hey Mac, you're so smooove with the ladies, baby!"  This may have been a Jet Li movie, but it was also The Anthony Anderson Show. And what's an action movie without a wise-cracking smart ass?

There is surprisingly little female exploitation/misogyny in this action movie. Trish, the lead character is such a good girl, that the bad girls (there are three) seem to be there only to show that the men they are with are immature losers. Colin, Trish's older brother, and his girlfriend are smoking pot, but only the girlfriend is undressed (in a bra and panties with an open robe). When someone knocks, she answers the door with the robe hanging open. Refreshingly, the movie actually seems pro-good girl as the message is that a good girl is worth fighting for and protecting, and that bad things happen to shallow, stupid men who hang out with loose women.

The action is fun but the story is missing some empathy to me. I couldn't help but wonder why the young Han and his brother Po were floating in the ocean, hanging on to a basketball, and how they got there? What was the father's crime that landed Han in jail to protect his father and his little brother? Why did they then leave for America? What happened to the mother? If the father abandoned the boys until it suited him to take take off to America with Po, what was Po doing all that time until he went off to America leaving Han behind. Maybe the father promised Han if he went to jail for them, he would take care of his little brother, then it would have seemed more relatable when Han hears (in jail) that his brother is dead (shaking spoon scene) as a broken promise. Also how long he had been in jail for would have added to the understandable anger. As he starts to investigate, I think if they did a better job of showing Han suspected his father (they hinted at it once in the conversation they have where Han's father tries to cast suspicious on Isaak), then it would have been more suspenseful to see him prove it.

It's not enough that Han is avenging his brother's death.  If the father had been shown to be uncaring maybe in contrast to a caring mother (who Han made a promise to to take care of his little brother), then we might have been invested in seeing him get taken down. As it was, we get only a glimpse that he is bad, and by then it's way into the movie and by then it can also be blamed on Kai. It's not until the final scene where we realize the extent of the father's evil. I would have liked to see the suspicion that his father is evil drive Han through solving the murder. We don't get a hint of this until the final scene with him. It's as if Han is pissed that he went to jail to protect his brother and his brother got killed anyway, but the extent of the father's ambitions are the cause and this is not revealed until the end. That he would sacrifice his own son to make a business deal.  Had he sacrificed the two boys to the ocean so to speak, it would have set up a pattern for a pay off. No one would have wanted to believe the father capable of that but without the suspicion the anger doesn't build and doesn't seem as deserving or justifiable to make it satisfying. Instead, it's just tragic. 

Overall, the movie is enjoyable anyway with lots of great action, and perhaps the way it was set up made Han who he was, less violent and scary, more lovable. If he was out for vengeance against a father who had wronged him once already, he may not have come off as sweet as he did, which made the developing relationship with Trish so nice.  It's a little bit of a romance (missing a kiss at the end!), very hip and cool, with a great soundtrack. A watch-it-over-and-over movie, you'll enjoy every time.

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