Sunday, 13 July 2008

Romeo Must Die (2000)

I actually watched this movie in the first place because I saw that Grace Park, of Battlestar Galactica fame, was in it. Was I ever disappointed when I realised that her entire role consisted in just dancing in a perverted way with another girl while Jet Li's character's brother was watching, not long before he would be killed ...

Anyway, Romeo Must Die is the story of the former Hong Kong policeman Han Sing (Jet Li), who set himself up and went to prison in the place of his father, letting him escape to the USA together with his brother. While he has been sitting in prison, dad has quickly risen as the leader of one of the most influential gangs in Oakland, California (played by Vancouver, British Columbia).

One day, word gets to Han that his brother has been killed, and he instantly breaks out of prison and goes to Oakland to pursue the killers. He soon finds himself in the middle of a three-way deal between Chinese, black and white mobsters who will stop at nothing in order to make more money for themselves.

By chance he meets Trisha (Aaliyah), the daughter of the black gang's boss, who helps him find the killers, and there is even a bit of romantic development between them ... (It stays platonic, though. I think two different versions of the last scene were filmed, one with a kiss, one without. Eventually, the one without kiss was chosen ... Maybe their kissing turned out a bit awquard?)

The film is stylish, has some good kung fu scenes, and Delroy Lindo, as Trisha's dad, delivers a good performance. Otherwise, it's kind of shallow and at times really silly, as in the scene where the homeboys teach Han how to play American Football and he ends up kicking their asses, while the little kids watching the game cheer excitedly. (I guess this film is one of the reasons why Jet Li decided to make Danny the Dog - to teach young people that kicking ass is actually NOT cool ...)

The Romeo and Juliet connection is not so very strong, besides the thing with Han and Trish coming from two rivalling gangs, and Han climbing up to Trisha's balcony in one scene ...

To sum it up, it's a nice enough film for a rainy afternoon. And, yeah, the US film industry surely could use some more 'interracial' romance, so that's a plus for Romeo Must Die.

Martial arts:
There are some pretty cool fighting scenes, but at times there is a bit too much 'entertainment' in them. It's a hard thing, trying to keep the balance between the fact that people really can get disabled for life and die when you kick their ass (in this film eerily illustrated by x-ray-style clips of their bones breaking and hearts exploding), and coreographing kung fu into a beautiful dance of death. It can easily become tasteless cult of violence, and in this film that's what happens now and then.

Beauty ...

... and lack of taste? (Han is trying to flirt with Trisha, but apparently the only way he knows how to do it is by kicking people's asses.)

Not much, because Trisha is a cool girl (there aren't that many women in the film besides her). Of course, there is the dancing scene mentioned at the beginning, and there's also ...

Han Sing: I can't hit a girl.
Trish: Look, I don't know how it is in China, but in America, if a girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleman.

So, yeah, at one point Han and Trisha are pursued by a bunch of people on motorbikes with lethal intent. When the helmet of one of them comes off, it's - gasp! - a WOMAN!!! Suddenly, Han can't hit back anymore, because, according to his principles, you should never, ever, hit a girl. It's silly, but also kind of adorable.

But how does he solve this problematic situation? Well, of course he uses Trisha's fists and feet, instead ...

Hunk factor:
Jet Li is always cute when he speaks English. And he and Aaliyah make a sweet couple. (Except for in the pretty awquard club scene ... but maybe I just had such a negative impression of that scene because Han was chewing gum, and I happen to have a pretty strong aversion against chewing gum. *shudder*)