This is the latest Jet Li picture, his last in the US was 1999 Outlaw Award Winner for Best Picture – Karate Black Mask. That was weird type of comic book story where there is karate, masks, lasers and all that sort of garbage, which is why it is good. Jet Li is an amazing type of action star as far as the kicks, the punches and etc. Legend has it that he is so fast they have to ask him to slow down so the camera can pick him up properly. In fact this guy is faster than Superman in my opinion, and he can also fly although only with the help of cables that are removed using high tech electronic computers that they have today. But the real thing about Jet Li is that he is a very charismistic and good looking dude, maybe a little feminine but in a “I’m gonna kick your ass and the girls will still think I’m sensitive, sucker” type of way.
What’s historic about this one is that it’s the first picture ever made in English with Jet Li as the star. The only English language picture he’s done in the past is I believe Beverly Hills Cop 4 or one of those type of movies, where he played the bad guy in a couple scenes and then the good guys make fun of him for being chinese. But he was so much more popular in that movie than the movie itself that now he is being groomed to join the pantheon with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Rudy Ray Moore and other martial arts superstars who have made it big in the states. And what better to story give this motherfucker than one by the bard of writing, Mr. William Shakespeare himself, the genius behind Titus and other hits.
Well, that’s what they WANTED us to think. I’ve been reading about this piece for a long time and every single time they call it an update of Romeo and Juliet. I knew they wouldn’t talk like Shakespeare, and obviously there is gonna be some liberties as well as possibly some karate. But I thought it was gonna be a serious, modern karate type of picture which coincidentally happens to be about the warring capulets and whatsits and how Romeo and Juliet meet and fall passionately in love and then the shit hits the fan if you know what I mean, as far as a bunch of karate scenes happen and what not. Of course that would be totally ludicrous. I think it would be very enjoyable.
Unfortunately there must have been alot of script doctors and what not on this picture, who thought they were a regular William Shakespeare, taking out scenes from the original and adding their own. Because what they ended up with is your basic americanized karate picture that has no fucking connection to the original story. There are two families, yes, one black and one chinese. And there is one scene where Jet Li looks in a window at Alliyah, which I guess is supposed to be like the balcony scene. Otherwise, there is no connection. You got no nurses, no apothecaries, no Tibalt or Mercutio types, no forbidden love, and even the rivalry between the two families turns out to be fake. Boys Don’t Cry was actually a much more faithful update of Romeo and Juliet. Hell, Titus was a more faithful update of Romeo and Juliet. I mean, if Shakespeare was alive he would probaly take his name off this project in my opinion, unless he is a very big Jet Li fan but even then he would probaly be very torn.
I mean wouldn’t it be funny if it actually followed the story very closely, but then Romeo starts flying around kicking guys? That is true Cinema in my opinion. At the very least I expected a Romeo and Juliet-like romance, but the relationship here is as cold as a cold beer. They barely know each other, they never even say they are into each other, nobody except a wacky fat guy makes a serious attempt to actually forbid their forbidden love, and at the end all they do is hug.
I mean we don’t even know for sure Jet is straight in this picture. The closest they do to going on a date is Jet convinces Aliiyah to go with him to the night club where he expects everyone to get massacred. Which I guess could be considered romantic I mean what do I know. Yeah, I guess it’s romantic, way to go Jet.
I mean it’s not that bad. There is a couple good action scenes. The best one is where Jet doesn’t want to punch a girl so he moves Aliiyah around like a doll and uses her fists and feet to beat up a gal. Delroy Lindo plays Aliiyah’s dad, an evil gang boss who is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet and never does anything bad or mean during the whole movie. And both Jet and Aliiyah are very likable.
There was a couple things I didn’t understand. Like why do they keep talking about starting an NFL team even though they live in Vancouver, a part of Canada. And how come when Delroy Lindo sees Jet Li he says, “Is this Han?”, even though he’s never heard of him before. There is also a subplot about how people turn into skeletons when they die, I didn’t get that at all man I guess it was over my head.
Maybe I am too much of a purist when it comes to the Shakespearean works, though. I guess you can’t expect every Shakespeare production to be as faithful and tradtionalist as Titus, Theater of Blood or Strange Brew. But even as a straightup karate picture this doesn’t deliver as much excitement as Black Mask, which everybody and their uncle claims is straight up shit compared to Fist of Legend and all those. Come on you americans, if you’re gonna use Jet Li use him well you are wasting a national resource here motherfucker and he’s not even ours yet.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.