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Sound and fury this certainly has
on March 19, 2002
Romeo Must Die is typical of a number of recent action-adventure movies. Fill the screen with lots of special effects, with heavy emphasis on explosions. Raise the decibel level on the sound track. Mix in a lot of jarring hip-hop music, paying scant attention to whether or not the vocals have anything to do with the movie. Give all the bad guys flashy cars to drive, lots of great jewelry to wear and houses to live in that are bigger and grander than those lived in by the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Finally, make the villains more likable by implying that tactics such as drug dealing and homicide are the only means certain people have to succeed and that most of them plan to go straight one day soon. The result of all this hocus pocus is that it will hopefully divert the audience so much that it will not realize that the movie has a dumb plot, if it has one at all. Or maybe to make them too dazed and confused to care.
As Romeo Must Die opens, two gangster warlords, one black and one Chinese, are in open warfare with each other. Since each one's fortune will be made by a joint effort to put together a deal with a supposedly legitimate corporation, I never understood the war part, but who needs a plot? The war is just a setup so that Chinese warlord Ch'u Sing's [Henry O] son can get murdered, the obvious suspects being members of the black gang and their leader, Isaak O'Day [Delray Lindo]. This provides an excuse for Sing's other son, Han [Jet Li], to single-handedly break out of a Hong Kong prison, come to America and seek revenge. One day in San Francisco, where the movie is set, Han steals a cab [don't ask] and just happens to rescue Trish O'Day [Aaliyah], Isaak's daughter, who is fleeing one of Dad's bodyguards, one that is supposed to be protecting her. Han whisks her away, never once thinking that the police might be looking for said cab. When he lets her off, their eyes meet, the music sweeps up, and, yes, love has landed. Both are alienated from their fathers, he on a little matter of Dad's letting him take the rap back in Hong King to save the old man's hide, and she because father is a self-righteous jerk who does bad things for a living. What greater justification for love could there be? Soon the plot gets both thicker and thinner, a writing feat in itself. Halfway through the movie, every audience member with at least a grade school education has figured out who is the culprit behind the war. Never mind that. There are lots more explosions, big fights and other events to follow to keep the viewers awake, and thus, presumably entertained.
Jet Li is a Hong Kong kung fu movie star who can sometimes also act. Here he seems mostly confused, not by America, I suspect, but by the director. He is grand in the fight scenes, though assisted often by flying pulley wires plus a few graphics effects. There aren't enough of these fights because the movie spends too much time taking itself seriously. As Trish O'Day, beautiful supermodel Aaliyah is pert and attractive, but this is no movie by which to measure her assets as an actress. Some of the supporting actors, especially Anthony Anderson, hilariously funny as Maurice the bodyguard, rise above their stereotypical roles. First time director Andrzej Bartkowiak is a master cinemaphotographer, and he might be wise to return to working the cameras ASAP.
The trailer for Romeo Must Die was first rate and did much to sell the movie. In it, there were a lot of fast, intricate little cuts from the film. All were underscored by a short, powerful classical orchestral and choral piece, which is not in the movie at all. Interestingly, on the DVD version, the opening section where the DVD's menu choices are displayed is filled with fast, intricate little cuts and the same classical music. Some creative soul in the Warner Bros. DVD division must have been sending us a message.