RMD isn't a bad film, but it didn't live up to my expectations that I have come to expect from a Jet Li movie. The problem is the story is predictable and shallow at times, its does however move along at a nice pace and will interest you until the end. The film's name is kind of misleading as it only shares really one similarity with Shakespeare's play (two people form a relationship that both families oppose)
Directed by former Cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, the film has a hip & stylish feel to it. The fight scenes, choreographed by Hong Kong action master Corey Yeun, are all nicely done quite glossy in some cases with its neat camera angles and visual effects (x-ray sight). While the action is ultimately satisfying, they are somewhat spoiled by the OTT use of wirework. It may be fine for such films like 'Matrix' or 'Once upon a time in China', but for a modern urban setting with no explanation on how Li can do his impossible kicks?
On the acting side, Li plays his character (Han Sing) well enough, but being that RMD was then his first full english speaking film as the lead, he doesn't say much, short sentences and a couple of words at any one time. But he does oozes charm whenever he is on screen. R'n'B star Aaliyah (who sadly die in a plane crash 2 years after RMD was filmed) made her then movie debut in it as Li's love interest and does a decent job playing 'Trish O'Day'. While the two leads don't actually kiss in the film, they do have genuine chemistry whenever there both on screen. There's good support from Isaiah Washington, Anthony Anderson and Delroy Lindo. Rap star DMX also makes an apperance in a small role.
To my surprise the lovely Francoise Yip, most famous for starring in Jackie Chan film 'Rumble in the Bronx' and Jet Li's 'Black Mask' makes a brief apperance as the 'biker babe' who fights against Li & Aaliyah.
Overall RMD has more highs then lows and so its worth a look for anybody who enjoys a glossy action film. If you loved RMD and want more of the same, watch 'Cradle 2 the Grave' which was release in the cinema earlier this year (2003). You could also try Jet Li's older Hong Kong stuff like the stunning 'Fist of Legend', most of them are much superior to his current US films in my opinon.
One thing this movie has is a great cast, including the two new-comers of sorts. For Jet Li, this was his first English-language leading role (although it was his 26th film overall), and for Aaliyah, it was her first of what should have been many more movies were it not for her untimely death a couple of years ago. The supporting players are great, particularly Delroy Lindo as African-American crime boss Isaak O'Day, a man who is trying to go legit only to see a turf war erupt between his posse and that of a neighboring Chinese crime family. Anthony Anderson steals the show, though, as O'Day's hilarious goon Maurice, shucking and jiving his way throughout the entire film, always rising to the comic occasion no matter how many times he loses a fight. Jet Li is Han Sing, a former Hong Kong cop who went to jail to allow his crooked father and brother to flee the island for America; when he learns that his little brother has been rubbed out, he makes a most interesting and enjoyable prison break in order to find his brother's killer. Aaliyah plays Trish O'Day, an independent woman who is ashamed of her family's illicit business dealings. Han ends up seeking her out as the best lead for finding his brother's killer, and they eventually form a certain bond and work together as the killings not only continue, they hit ever closer to home.
The story as it plays out is a little bit confusing and hard to predict, with an ending that turns out to be quite good indeed, but there's a good bit of entertainment to be had alongside all the senseless killing. Jet Li on the dance floor is a perfect example of what I'm talking about here. Han can pretend to know hip-hop, but his moves on the dance floor are significantly less impressive than his moves in a fight. Another great scene involves Han being attacked by a female martial artist; while he refuses to hit a woman, he comes up with a pretty handy dandy way of kicking her to the curb like she deserves. Then there is Jet Li's football scene, wherein his character takes the thoroughly American game to a whole new level. This leads me into one problem I have with the film, though. Romeo Must Die, from the producer of The Matrix, suffers from The Matrix Syndrome, using wires to orchestrate acrobatic stunts for no reason whatsoever. Things go so far here as to introduce "ultra pain mode" shots where we suddenly zoom inside a person's body to see the reaction to a punch. There's just no need for Jet Li to fly through the air; the fact that he can take out every man in a large room without ever setting foot on the ground might sound cool, but it really takes something away from the otherwise gritty feel of the film.
Romeo Must Die is really an odd mix of martial arts, hip-hop flavor, comedy, action, you name it. The soundtrack gives it a driving pulse you won't find in many films of this type, making this a movie that fans of several genres can enjoy. There is plenty of action, although Jet Li's martial arts skills aren't put to good use nearly as much as I would have preferred. The DVD is absolutely loaded with extra features: theatrical trailers, 3 music videos, 13 behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews, and even more goodies for DVD-ROM owners. It's a very enjoyable film, but its mix-and-match genre outfit leaves it unable to wholly satisfy fans of any one genre.