ROMEO MUST DIE
Written by Eric Bernt and John Jarrell, based on the story
by Mitchell Kapner, Romeo is set in an area of the New
York City waterfront which is controlled half by Chinese and half
by blacks. In spite of the fact that there is a vicious animosity
between the two sectors, their leaders have decided to put aside
their differences in order to settle a major real estate deal.
Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo), the black version of the Godfather,
and Ch'u Sing (Henry O), his Chinese counterpart, plan to buy
out all the waterfront properties and sell the entire parcel to
the NFL for a new football stadium. But after Ch'u's son Po (Jon
Kit Lee) is executed by the gangstas, tensions begin to build.
When he hears the news, Po's brother Han (Li) escapes from a Hong
Kong prison and travels to America to discover the identity of
his brother's killers. By chance, he meets Isaak's daughter Trish
(Aaliyah Houghton), and the two begin a flirtatious relationship.
She at first puts off his questions about who killed his brother,
but when her own brother Colin (D.B. Woodside) is murdered, she
realizes they must work together to bring the insanity to an end.
Meanwhile, O'Day and Ch'u maintain a façade of friendship
while their assistants (Isaiah Washington and Russell Wong) continue
to ratchet up the interracial violence.
I'm not at all sure how to judge this film. I suppose a fan
of the Kung Fu genre goes to see the fist-and-foot action, and
this is the least impressive part of the film. Jet Li is legendary
for his martial acrobatics, and he does indeed do some amazing,
well-choreographed moves in this film, but the fight scenes are
digitally fiddled with to the point that his skill is almost irrelevant.
When you have guys with computers who can make it look like you're
hovering in the air for five minutes stomping repeatedly on peoples'
faces, it doesn't really matter who's playing the lead role. You
could have Orson Welles doing it.
What impresses me about this film is its consistency in terms
of characterization. Lindo, Houghton, Li, Washington, and Wong
all craft believable people from the pages of the script; there's
some real acting going on here. Jet Li still has a way to go before
he'll get a best actor nomination, but alongside Houghton he is
not bad at one point I think I actually saw a tear welling
up in his eye. The relationship between those two is sweet and
believable, thanks mainly to Houghton, and the sense of bad blood
between the races is brought out well between the principals on
both sides. Lindo, seen recently in The
Cider House Rules, exudes class and elegance as the black
crime leader. Also, the cinematography by Glen MacPherson deserves
special note; fine scenery is something one does not expect in
For hard-core fans of Kung Fu movies, people who love to watch a martial arts master work his craft unaided by photographic trickery, this film may be a flop. But if your taste for a well-developed story takes precedence over the desire for realistic fight sequences, Romeo is not a bad bet. ****
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