What a time capsule this is.
I was 12-13 in 2000, Alternative rock was still ruling the air waves, Much Music was still only showing music videos. Social media wasn’t around yet (or at least still in its embryonic infancy), as MySpace was still 3 years away. In fact the internet was in the midst of its first large economic bubble, and broadband was still very new to average consumers. Ipods weren’t around as downloading mp3’s was only just beginning to spread due to napster’s launch a year before. Lastly, it was one of the last years when only drug dealers could afford cell phones.
As for the movie, the dvd box of this movie mentions The Matrix no less than 4 times; and it comes from a time where a lot of Hong Kong expats were trying (with varying degrees of success) to find success in Hollywood. As The Matrix‘s success showed there was an audience for martial arts heavy action movies in North America, much like Enter the Dragon had done so decades ago. With Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, and Jackie Chan releasing no less than 9 American made movies from 2000-2003.
I say all this because the historical context surrounding Romeo Must Die is a lot more interesting than the movie itself, but i suppose that’s enough stalling.
In this incredibly loose adaptation (so loose it flies off at the slightest breeze in fact), two star crossed lovers find each other after a gang war gets a bit too personal with who it affects.
It’s clear that Aaliyah, (with two albums under her belt at the time of release) clearly had ambitions and the talent to become a superstar in the same vein as Jennifer Lopez. Here in Romeo Must Die she is convincing and above all likable, and while i doubt she would have won an Oscar in her future endeavors she certainly has that all important movie star charisma that makes her sudden passing all the more tragic.
It also helps that she and Jet Li have a nice chemistry in their scenes together, which helps to sell the romance far better than in Attack of the Clones for instance. Li is also likable if unremarkable, giving his character a good nice guy charm that makes the movie inoffensive to watch.
Lastly the movie boasts a pretty decent soundtrack, filled with turn of the century R&B and Hip Hop tunes that will spark nostalgia in anyone old enough to remember them. It’s also the home to Aaliyah’s great number one single Try Again, recalling the day and age when movies had associated hit singles (ala Wild Wild West and I Will Always Love You) which again makes me remember simpler times.
While the fights are shot well enough (being clear and watchable), the choreography is at times rather unremarkable. Relying on gimmicks, pointless cgi, and wire work that makes the whole effort seem very dated. Particularly with the wire work, as the filmmakers are very clearly trying their up most to follow The Matrix’s gravity defying thrills without supplying the proper setting to support Li’s superhuman abilities. I myself remember being disappointed by the film’s climactic one on one fight for being very short and unsatisfying, the filmmakers seemingly afraid to make the fight go on too long without some dazzling cgi or wire work to hold my interest.
Also to say this is an “adaptation” of Romeo and Juliet is a mendacity. Other than a similarity between familial settings nothing else is carried over, though admittedly that might have been a marketing direction for the source of initial inspiration. Either way the story isn’t Shakespeare, with the movie being a bit slow with its pacing and unsurprising with its narrative twists.
Lastly, while Li and Aaliyah mix well together it’s more of a friends who flirt with each other vibe than smoldering romance.
There’s nothing in Romeo Must Die that engages me deeply, the drama and the action are competently put together by talented people but lacks lasting flair. However there’s nothing in the movie that deeply offends either, as the movie’s mistakes are easily forgiven or fast forwarded through.
Ultimately Romeo Must Die is fairly forgettable and the film’s greatest value will be that it gave Jet Li and Aaliyah their first starring roles; however the latter tragically died, and the former got involved in better projects outside of Hollywood.
Ultimately that will bury the film under and with both of these stars’ body of works as the world spins further away from the year 2000.
OUT OF FIVE