Top Hong Kong martial arts star Jet Li stars in Romeo Must Die, only his second English-language film (after Lethal Weapon 4, where Bartkowiak was the chief camerman) as Han Sing, a Hong Kong cop wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. When his brother is killed at a club, he breaks out and heads to Oakland, USA, determined to bring the killers to justice.
There, he meets Trish O’Day (Aaliyah) who agrees to help him and the pair begin to fall in love but, in a nod to Shakespeare’s tragedy, her father Isaak (Delroy Lindo) is head of a gang of illegal property speculators responsible for Sing’s brother’s death and as Sing and Isaac range up their forces against each other, so violence and death threaten the lovers.
The film is a dramatically wonderful mix of martial art set pieces choreographed to the standards of Lee or Chan but, using the CGI so effective in The Matrix , even more dramatic and Veteran cinematographer Bartkowiak, making his directorial debut, knows exactly what works on screen and why when it comes to action, even including some original use of X-ray imagery. The film was also the debut for acclaimed singer Aaliyah, whose performance promised so much more – sadly, she died in a plane crash and Queen of the Damned was her only other film.
USA / 2000
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Writers: Mitchell Kapner, Eric Bernt, John Jarrell
Cast: Jet Li, Aaliyah, DMX, Delroy Lindo, Russell Wong, Isaiah Washington