Romeo Must Die (2000)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 3/22/2000
Producer: Joel Silver
Martial Arts Choreographer: Corey Yuen
Cast: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Russell Wong, cameo by Francoise Yip (Yip Fong Wah)

There's a gang war going on in the Bay Area between the Blacks and the Asians. They're fighting over some waterfront property that The Man wants to purchase so that a new football stadium can be built. The war escalates when the Asian leader's son winds up dead, and when word of his death reaches Hong Kong, his incarcerated brother (Jet Li) breaks out of jail to avenge him. When he reaches The States, he happens to hook up with the Black gang leader's daughter (Aaliyah), which makes a lot of people unhappy and puts Jet in constant danger. Did I mention that Aaliyah is unbelievably gorgeous? Oh my god, what a ravishing goddess of feminine beauty. And just wait until you see her with a gun. Wow... Anyway, together the two of them figure out what's really going on behind the scenes of the gangland murders, culminating in a free-for-all kung fu showdown between Jet Li and Russell Wong.

First of all, it's a fairly reasonable gangster film and "urban thriller." The story is solid, the characters are believable, and most of the dialog is reasonable. Jet Li's English is surprisingly good, and I had no idea that Russell Wong's English was as good as it is. Where the movie really falls apart, though, is in the action scenes. Only Hollywood could make Jet Li, one of the finest martial artists in China, look bad. He's constantly flying through the air on wires, with all sorts of bizarre filters applied to him. Kai's Powertools of Death strike again. What's even more jarring than his physics defying moves is the fact that his character often looks like he's been composited into the scene! Unacceptable. And when the fighting comes back to Earth, Jet Li's martial arts prowess is ruined by jerky and claustrophobic camera work, and choppy machine gun editing. What a waste. Another sad waste is the beautiful Francoise Yip, whose teeny-tiny cameo gives her just enough screen time to be killed. Sigh.