Before I begin this review, I want to apologize for not publishing this article sooner. I’ve been busy not only preparing for Christmas, but also working on projects that are blog and non-blog related. But I finally found the time to post my review for December’s Genre Grandeur! For this round of the blogathon, the theme is “Shakespeare on Film Movies”. At first, I thought this was going to be a challenge. When I searched for possible titles on the internet, however, I realized that there were plenty of films for me to choose from. Out of all those choices, I picked Romeo Must Die! Over the years, I have discovered that Romeo and Juliet retellings can be hit or miss. While I thought Gnomeo & Juliet was cute, I was not a fan of Romeo + Juliet. When I discovered that Romeo Must Die was a modern adaptation of the famous William Shakespeare story featuring martial arts, it raised my interest in this film. For last month’s Genre Grandeur, I reviewed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you read that review, you would remember that I enjoyed the film. One of the reasons why was the martial arts choreography. But just because there are martial arts in Romeo Must Die, does that mean I’ll enjoy it as much as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Thanks for joining me for this review, as we’re now about to answer that question!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Last Halloween, I reviewed Queen of the Damned. Aaliyah’s portrayal of Queen Akasha is one of the things I liked about that film. I’m not sure how much acting experience she had prior to being cast in Romeo Must Die. But I was very impressed with her performance! The acting material Aaliyah was given allowed her portrayal of Trish to be versatile and well-rounded. In a scene where she shares a childhood memory involving her brother, I felt sympathy toward Trish and her situation. Before watching Romeo Must Die, I had never seen a movie starring Jet Li. However, I enjoyed seeing his performance in this film! One scene shows his character, Han, being informed of his brother’s death. In that scene, there was so much emotion in his facial expressions and body language, that those things were able to convey a message without the use of dialogue. This whole cast was very talented! Not only were they able to pull off a dramatic performance, some actors even delivered a comedic performance. A great example is Anthony Anderson’s portrayal of Maurice. While there were times when this character could be menacing, there were times when he was hilarious. One of the funniest scenes is when Maurice accidently destroys a CD display.
The martial arts choreography: The martial arts sequences in Romeo Must Die brought something special to the project! Because this is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, it helps this version of the story stand out from other cinematic retellings. I wasn’t able to find out who choregraphed these sequences. But whoever they are, they deserve recognition for their hard work and effort! All of the martial arts sequences were choregraphed well. They were fast enough to keep up the film’s pace, but not fast enough to confuse audience members with what is happening on screen. Some of the martial arts were incorporated in very creative ways! One example was when it was used during a football game. Since I haven’t seen something like that before, I thought it was a new and exciting way to see martial arts in film!
The modernization of Romeo and Juliet: As I said in the introduction, I’ve seen other modern adaptations of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo Must Die’s take on this story was very interesting and made some improvements to the source material. In this movie, the division between the protagonists’ families is given a better and more clear explanation. Business and cultural/racial differences are what creates a separation for these characters. Also, the protagonists, Han and Trish, are aged up. Having them be of adult age actually helps them play a significant contribution to the narrative, allowing them to make an impact on their families and the conflict surrounding them. This is different from the titular characters in William Shakespeare’s story, where they aren’t given much to do because of their youth.
What I didn’t like about the film:
No romance for Trish and Han: Romance plays an important role in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In fact, the majority of that story revolves around the relationship of the titular characters. In Romeo Must Die, there was a relationship between the protagonists, Han and Trish. But this relationship was not romantic. This adaptation placed more focus on the division between the rivaling families. Han and Trish’s roles were to solve the mysteries between a series of murders. I understand that the creative team behind Romeo Must Die wanted to present the source material in a new way. But excluding romance takes away an essential part of Romeo and Juliet’s identity.
A limited use of martial arts: In my review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I shared that I didn’t like how the film’s martial arts sequences were featured for a limited amount of time on screen. Romeo Must Die has a similar flaw. The 2000 released project is classified as an action movie, so these sequences had a greater presence on film. But it felt like the martial arts were incorporated at select moments. Like I said in my Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon review, a 50/50 balance was not found. Because the story put more emphasis on the rivaling families’ division, there were more dialogue focused scenes.
The character of Roth and his business team: One of the story-points in Romeo Must Die involves the construction of a football stadium. This part of the story introduced the character of Vincent Roth and his business team. I think the actors who portrayed these characters did a good job with the acting material they were given. But the characters themselves were under-utilized. Compared to the other characters in the film, Roth and his team didn’t play as significant of a role as they could have. If anything, it felt like these characters were there for the sake of being there.
My overall impression:
To review or not to review, that is the question (yes, that Shakespeare reference was intentional). Sure, I’m not going to be the first movie blogger to make that reference. But I probably won’t be the last! Adaptations of William Shakespeare’s works have been around since the beginning of cinema. Whether these adaptations are classical or modern, they prove there are various different ways to approach the source material. Romeo Must Die is a great example of this. Because of the creative team’s perspective on the story, they were able to create a project that had its own identity and added some unique elements to the narrative. Because of this, I found the movie to be one of the better cinematic versions of this story! By making this an action movie and featuring a mystery within the script, it created a sense of intrigue and suspense for the project. It also helped me stay invested in the film. While this movie does have its flaws, it also has strong components that I liked about it. When I learned that Romeo Must Die was a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet with martial arts, I was hoping to, at least, get some enjoyment out of it. After watching it, I can now say this idea was well executed!
Overall score: 7.6 out of 10
Have you ever seen Romeo Must Die? Which adaptation of William Shakespeare’s stories do you like the most? Share your thoughts in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!