By Steve Vivona
Warner, $24.95, Widescreen
I've said elsewhere that while I admire Jackie Chan he's no Bruce Lee. I can often do without the heavy doses of comedy he injects into his films. When I saw "Lethal Weapon 4" (a guilty pleasure) I found a new martial arts champion who admittedly I knew very little about. In the last decade Jet Li established himself as a worthy successor to Lee. His martial arts prowess is every bit as good as Chan's. His films however are much more serious.
In "Lethal 4" Li made quick work of Mel Gibson during two spectacular fight scenes. Now with "Romeo Must Die" the spotlight is all on him. The film is a broad takeoff on Shakespeare's tragic romance with Li starring as Han Sing, a disgraced Hong Kong cop who is in prison because he refused to arrest his gangster father.
Han's father Chu Sing is an L.A. crimelord who is in the midst of an important business deal with rival African-American gangster Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo) to buy up all the Oakland waterfront businesses and sell it to the NFL as the site for a future stadium. Tensions run high as these two gangsters try to put aside their differences.
Their fragile peace is shattered when Han's brother Po is murdered. When he hears the news Han breaks out of prison and comes to America to avenge his brother. He finds himself in the midst of simmering tensions and meets Isaak's daughter Trish (pop singer Aaliyah). There is an immediate attraction between the pair and after Trish's brother is also murdered they team up to get to the bottom of the situation.
"Romeo Must Die" is obviously a showcase for Li's many talents, which in many scenes have been obviously (and in my opinion, needlessly) computer-enhanced. The success of "The Matrix" has amped up audience expectations in terms of action and what we see in "Romeo Must Die" is a result.
The problem is that with a film like "The Matrix," which is set in a fantasy environment, it's ok to push the reality of the action. Here it just looks silly and phony. In Hong Kong about all they could afford were wires. Here with the full power of CGI behind them anything is possible, but it just doesn't look right.
Li is a likeable performer who seems to have mastered the language. In "Lethal 4" he had very little dialogue but a definite presence. He and Aaliyah have a definite chemistry that makes their relationship believable. A romance between the two is only hinted at, and they don't suffer the same tragic fate as their Shakespearian ancestors.
"Romeo Must Die" tries to emphasize the story over the action, but it is all too predictable (if I can figure it out it has to be!), and I found myself hankering for more action. Admittedly the fight sequences are pretty spectacular and I think Li has a bright future over here.
Warner has served up a terrific DVD presentation for "Romeo Must Die" that includes a total of five documentaries about various aspects of the production. I enjoyed seeing how the fight scenes were choreographed and executed, as well some of the more amazing stunts. Additionally there are two Aaliyah music videos and a making-of short on one of those as well. Two trailers round out the supplements on this value-packed release!
The widescreen transfer is also very strong with a typically sharp image for a Warner disc and great sound.