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Ex-cop Han Sing (Jet Li) is imprisoned in a Hong Kong jail, having helped his crime boss father and brother escape to the US. When his brother is killed in a turf war with a rival gang led by Isaak O’Day (Delroy Lindo), Han busts out of jail and heads for Oakland to track down the culprits. By chance he first meets Trish (Aaliyah), O’Day’s daughter. Strongly attracted to each other, the pair set out to find the cause of the blood feud before it destroys both their families

Review by Stuart Whitmore:
A noted film critic once said of a Belgian movie star: ‘Mr. Van Damme is an extraordinary find, combining the balletic grace of Nureyev with the acting ability of a turnip’. In the making of documentary on Romeo Must Die, Russell Wong compares Jet Li with another great ballet dancer, Baryshnikov. He declines to draw any parallel with tuberous vegetables.

And with good cause. Where the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme made ham-fisted attempts at being thespians, the more modest Li prefers to let his iron fists (and feet, and elbows) do the talking. Rather than act badly, Li chooses to underact, allowing his co-stars to fill the vacuum around him. It’s an approach that worked well in his first Hollywood outing, Lethal Weapon 4, where he was a smooth criminal indeed. But Li’s transition to romantic lead in Romeo Must Die is less graceful.

The movie is a kung-fu-hip-hop take on Romeo and Juliet’s love across the barricades. Li and Aaliyah make a cute couple, but star-crossed lovers they ain’t. Their chaste flirtation lacks fizz because while Aaliyah manages to at least appear curious about Li, he gives her nothing back. A puzzled smile is about as fiery as he gets. The contrast with the action scenes could not be more marked. Li burns up the screen, his coyness disappearing in a blur of dancing feet. Fight choreographer Cory Yuen (of The Matrix fame) stages some memorable and original sequences, and is responsible for the one moment when the leading couple truly gel. When Li gets into a spat with a high-kicking girl he can’t bring himself to hit her and uses Aaliyah’s hands and feet instead, guiding his partner through the fight like Fred leading Ginger.

Despite the damp squib of a love story there is plot enough to tie the action together and some solid performances from the ever dependable Delroy Lindo as O’Day and Aaliyah as his daughter Trish. The R&B songstress’s composed debut shows promise and makes her untimely death all the more tragic. Fans will find more of Aaliyah on the DVD’s special features, with two music videos and a making of feature from the set of the "Try Again" clip. A location documentary and theatrical trailer are the only other additions, unless you have a DVD-ROM drive to access interactive features on your PC.

Published December 27, 2001

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CAST: Jet Li, Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, DMX

DIRECTOR: Andrezej Bartkowiak

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: November 20, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen; Making of documentary; Theatrical trailer; International trailer; Music videos "Try Again" by Aaliyah, "Come Back in One Piece" by Aaliyah and DMX; Making of "Try Again" video; DVD-ROM features. Languages: English 5.1, Italian 5.1. Subtitles: English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Italian for the hearing impaired

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