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
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
Published December 27, 2001