Two households, both alike in their gangster ways – one black, the other Asian,
In fair San Francisco, where we lay our scene.
From forth the cunning minds of these two foes, the deal of the century emerges,
A delicate truce exists, kept in place only by slaughtering everyone who stands in their way.
Enter a pair of star-cross’d platonic acquaintances.
A son from Hong Kong, who must find his brother’s killer,
A daughter who refuses to partake in her father’s empire.
The story of these two, caught in the middle of a gang war, forced to expose the truth, end the bloodbath, and bring peace to the streets again,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our screen…
Romeo Must Die is a far better film than it has any right to be. It arrived at just the right time, right when Hollywood was waking up to the potential of Hong Kong action cinema, but before computers ruined the realism of every action scene. Although admittedly a few ill-advised CGI enhancements do pop up here, but those shots are easily overlooked.
The story is thick with schemes and back-room dealings, but this is the kind of film, where you don’t really have to pay too much attention to the plot. Once the action scenes get going, the soundtrack is blasting, and Jet Li is given free reins to indulge in his martial art acrobatics, who cares why they’re fighting!
Speaking of Li, this is the perfect vehicle for him. It plays to all his strong sides, and carefully avoids his shortcomings. It also features an auspicious debut from Aaliyah, who tragically died in a plane crash a year later. Breaks my heart that she had to leave this world before we truly had a chance to appreciate her acting talents. They’re really cute together, without being creepy (even though she was 21 and he was 37), and they provide an emotional thread to the story, so the film never becomes action for the sake of action – something similar projects rarely accomplish.
Audio & Video:
This is a stunning transfer, with sharp images, good colors, and good contrast. Some scenes or single shots have a tiny layer of grain, but this is almost not worth mentioning.
The sound is very solid as well, with a few reservations. First of all, this is one of those finger-on-the-volume-control movies, where you constantly have to turn up the sound during the dialogue scenes, and turn it down during the noisy action scenes. Second, I could have used a little more surround effect during the non-action sequences – noticeably several of the soundtrack’s songs never make it to the rear speakers, which is a bit odd.
A satisfying mix of short and long featurettes, with plenty of behind the scenes footage. Also included are 2 music videos and trailers. Unfortunately these have simply been ported over from the original DVD. They looked pretty shabby even back then, so they look downright awful on a high-def disc.
The disc features multiple subtitles from all over the world, even though this is not mentioned on the cover. The disc is region free.
No one could accuse producer Joel Silver of reinventing the wheel, but what he does, he does well, and for the type of high-profile, action movie he makes, it doesn’t get much better than this. Simply put, Romeo Must Die is a near perfect mix of action, drama, and straight up kick-assery!
Like the big man says: “Some you win, and Dim Sum you lose.” Luckily, we can count this among the wins.
Extra Features: B