Romeo Must Die
dr. andrzej bartkowiak
str. jet li, aaliyah, iasiah washington, russel wong

What to say, what to say? So much, and at my fingertips the English vocabulary, most of which lies dormant and redundant most of the time. Work with me people! It's creative writing time! Let me tell you about My Summer Holiday. Or maybe this movie, wicked and naïve and too mixed up.

That this movie has been lambasted, especially by noted critic Ebert, is of completely no concern to me at all. Ebert's moans about borrowing a Shakespearan idea and then burying the rest, not to mention the impossibility of Li's martial arts movements (quote, "Here Jet Li leaps six feet in the air and rotates clockwise while kicking three guys. It can't be done, we know it can't be done, we know he's not doing it, and so what's the point?" - fuckwit, is all I can say. This is the exact shit that gives me grandiose delusions) and his preposterous claim that a central plot line "exists primarily as a clothesline on which to hang elaborate martial arts sequences" betray a complete non-fluency in popular cinema in general, and Hong Kong popular cinema in particular. The entire Shakespearan issue especially stinks, with many critics sticking their boot in to crush the story into some semblance of the original play; surprise, surprise, they often claim that they are frustrated.

He also misses out a great deal of race/ gender/ class political discourse picked up with great sophistication by the astute Johnathan Beller and Cynthia Fuchs of PopMatters' film section.

Director Bartkowiak's intentions are made clear by the first scene in the movie, a Mercedes cruising a damp city street that evokes a cooled down version of Hong Kong. The Merc is a particularly apt symbol of affluence, especially yellow (Hong Kong has more mercedes per capita than any European country) and especially black (any R&B video). These nu urban stylings slot side by side with the hip hop tracks used throughout, an edgy fusion of both yellow and black despite the allusion to a Romeo, plagued by separation of arbitrary borders. It continues throughout, this vaunted difference between black and yellow, when the film makes it obvious that despite language differences both are the same where ingroup loyalty, money and family are concerned. It helps that the common enemy is a pushy rich whitey Jew named Roth who looks like Christian Bale.

Very nice. But unfortunately, totally bloodless.

After the standard fare of impeccably cinematographed Hong Kong fight movies, watching a bystander running-shot of these fights gives a dull, nearly cinema verite impression. It merely becomes kicky shit with wires, rather than a display of the obvious prowess of Jet Li's choreography. Granted the powerful impact of slowmo computer graphics of Han crushing bones, but the ideas compensate poorly for the lack of excitement in camerawork, like advertisements that pass too fast for you to quite realize
what's going on.

Also, Jet Li's Han is totally unsexy. Normally I couldn't care less, but this stereotyping of the sexless Nice Chinese Boy has been done to fucking death. I thought, for once, for once!, a yellow leading man who is going to have a romance, but no, after a long history of Asian androgyny, first as the dry cleaning coolie with the funny accent, then as the all American ultradork with the funny accent, this movie takes yet another whip at the small pile of dust that remains of this sodomized dead horse. Not only does Jet Li remain explicitly asexual, he is so unstylish that it invites contemplations on Hollywood's version of anything Chinese, for example, how Shanghai, a bustling metropolis with 12 lane inner city highways, is reduced to a quaint fishing village in the socioculturally abominable Armageddon. Maybe it's America's version of capitalism envy - surely these short rice-eating communists cannot build such an edifice to money? And surely, this cannot be Hong Kong, where anything that's in this season is already out.

Han also has a supposed romance with Trish (Aaliyah), where not an iota of sexual frisson can be detected. The end of the movie sees them joining hands. Oh how cute, like boyfriend and girlfriend. Pass the lube honey, and the condom, and wash your hands; no dirty shit here for us two. It smells of a high school relationship rather than a noir romance pumped to the gills with the facts of life, and is incredibly disappointing given the possible scope of the issue. God, not a sensitive, gay-analogue yellow lead. I just kept on wanting to scream, 'Don't just weep all over his shoulder, fuck him, damn you!'

It is disturbing to read the possible implication of the following paragraph written by the Cranky Critic: "With a heavy African-American quotient in the audience, I can report a
very negative response to some of the romantic scenes." That it's invited a great deal of discussion in Asian American circles is encouraging, especially since they're pissed off about the same things that I am.

Jet Li has a rather annoying head nod that appears during dramatic tension scenes.

He is also short, which is a great burden as a Hollywood actor, especially when your female costar seems to tower over you.

The one thing that truly pisses me off though, is that I could have saved all the money I used for this movie. watching instead the fantastically choreographed and directed music vid for Aaliyah's Try Again, where Jet Li is sexier and taller, the soundtrack lilts and bends, and there is a great deal more sexual tension between them in 3 minutes than through the entire movie. I could have saved myself a whole mixed load of race politics and simply chewed over what a fantastic movie it looked like from that distance.

Huan Tzin Goh
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