Jet Li’s ill fated trip to America: Romeo Must Die / The One / Cradle 2 the Grave (Review)

Why would America waste this guy?

In the late 90s Jackie Chan was ruling the martial arts world and people started looking for the ‘next big thing’. Jet Li seemed like – and should have been – the ideal successor to the Chan throne, but in a baffling series of bad decisions and even worse movies Jet more or less gave up.

Jet already had a couple of great flicks under his belt, his athleticism and martial arts chops were beyond reproach, even his English was at least as good as Chan’s (still not flash though). He seemed ready to go.

So what went wrong? Well the directors they lumbered him with obviously felt he wasn’t ‘cool‘ enough on his own, that amazing ability and incredible moves weren’t enough. So they cast him as the second or third banana in ensemble films full of mediocre hacks and morons, and ‘enhanced’ his moves with wires and embarrassing action setpieces that ignored his natural abilities in favour of sub-Matrix-ey bullshit.

A rare in-focus appearance in Lethal Weapon 4

Put more simply, Jet’s first role in the US was a bitzer, the Chinese bad guy in Lethal Weapon 4 where he got maybe two good fight scenes and say a quarter of an hour screen time. He has since made 6 more films in North America, some he starred in but usually alongside another more bankable guy, in the case of The Expendables lots of them…

In my opinion Lethal Weapon remains the ‘best’ of the bunch. Given that stands as the worst in the quadrilogy I find that a sad state of affairs indeed.

So did Jet simply lose it? Well the two European films he made in the same time span – Kiss of the Dragon and Unleashed – both ROCKED, and the Chinese set Hero garnered his best reviews.

So no…

Regardless of why, the following triptet of suck stands as solid justification as to why Jet never received the credit he deserved for his skills in the US, and given the fact he is soon to top 50 he probably never will.

Romeo Must Die

Romeo must die? How about the guy who made this must die? Because he as much as anyone stopped Jet Li from becoming as much of a household name as Jackie Chan. While Chan made the safe but sensible choice of trying to edge into Hollywood with buddy-cop films and tongue in cheek Eastern-Westerns, Jet decided to play to his strength and go full bore martial arts expert. He let the other guys bring the edge, the humour, the cool points, the big stunts and the setpieces. He would stay in his lane and be the little Asian guy who kicked and punched the naughty guys.

And he did. And unfortunately the other guys brought along none of the stuff I mentioned above.

I hate Romeo Must Die for that.

Jet Li finds himself in the middle of an Asian/Black gang war, that has escalated when the playboy son of the Asian crime boss ends up dead, apparently at the hands of the rival black gang. Sorry to be so racially specific, I can think of no other descriptor that aptly differentiates the two gangs.)

“Hey Boomer’s in the club!”

In a nice aside Grace Park plays a club hottie in a two minute sequence at the opening of the film that is easily the best scene in the entire two hours… for all the reasons you already assume.

Well it turns out that said Playboy was Han’s (Jet Li) lil’ brother, and even though he is in prison when informed of his fate Han immediately – and I mean immediately – busts out of prison in Hong Kong and heads to the US, where he immediately – as in walking out of the airport doors immediately – comes across the daughter of the black gang leader, (played by Delroy Lindo as if he was in a ‘real’ film).

The daughter is played by the late R&B singer Aaliyah, and while she is cute enough and says enough lines to suggest her character is both sassy and self confident, her role is most notable for wearing a series of ridiculous ‘street tough’ outfits. My probably unpopular opinion is if Aaliyah had not suffered an untimely death this role and her acting career would likely have sunk without trace.

Moving on…

Han and sassy Aaliyah find themselves thrown together coincidentally more than a few times, and a totally inexplicable attraction forms considering there is zero chemistry and around 22 lines of dialogue between the two. Apparently we are supposed to think that this couple are the bastions of truth amid an ongoing feud between the two sides. All I saw were increasingly nonsensical plot beset with shitty action, shitty dialogue and embarrassingly off the mark comedy. Most notably a scene involving Han’s first introduction to playing NFL football that was supposed to be a combo of all three action/dialogue/comedy elements, but ended as one of the hands down most pathetic scenes in cinematic history.

And by the way this was the scene where onlooker Aaliyah was supposed to finally decide that Han was the one for her, all it made me want to do was eject the DVD and snap it.

Again and again…

A DMX cameo should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back but nonetheless I kept watching until the end, where a wire-facilitated fight – in a ring of fire no less – capped off an excremental 110 minutes of eyeball scratching pain.

At the conclusion I thought of all the best features of the stereotypical ‘Jet Li movie’;

  • – Action
  • – Fights
  • – Stunts
  • – A chuckle or two

This had a grand total of Zero moments from any of the four categories above that would be termed ‘worthwhile’.

So I would remind you of what I feel are the best features of a Jet Li film, then point out that this film has none of that. Then I would ask you why you would bother watching Romeo Must Die?

It is a question I have asked myself often in the last couple weeks.

Final Rating – 4.5 / 10. A series of clumsy, ill conceived disappointments. If this is what is supposed to be ‘cool’ then I am wayyy off. An inauspicious start to Mr Li’s ill fated American dalliance.

The One

The basic premise of The One is actually pretty elaborate and could have been spun out in numerous different ways. Most of them probably would have resulted in better films than this.

In short there are apparently numerous parallel universes running simultaneously, in each of these exists another version of you. Each time one of these variants dies that person’s essence, vitality, strength and abilities is immediately absorbed into the remaining ‘yous’.

It turns out that a man named U-Law (Jet Li) has discovered this and has set about destroying all other versions of himself ‘Highlander’ style until there can be only (the titular) One. There are a grand total of 125 U-Law variations. He has killed 123… Only Gabe Law (also Jet Li) remains.

Now apparently this mustn’t be the first time someone came up with this fiendish theory of Law domination, as inter-dimensional travel is strictly policed, and a team of agents has been tailing the ever-stronger U-Law for some time, lead by the duo of Jason Statham and Delroy Lindo.

Once it is evident that only one remaining Law stands in between U-Law and his domination they decide to short cut the procedure and head straight to his dimension – to cut U-Law off at the pass – so to speak.

Gabe Law is actually different in all ways from U-Law, he is in fact not that naughty at all, but a cop, happily married to his loving wife TK. He also is struggling to come to come up with reasons as to why he feels about 61.5 times stronger lately… Gabe understandably takes the news that he is being hunted by himself from another reality with the proverbial pinch of salt, until U-Law shows up and starts blazing away.

Now with the two remaining Law variants having approximately 50% of the strength of 123 guys each, The One has every excuse for indulging in some over the top action sequences, and it has these in spades. Unfortunately it is also lumbered with some bad angst ridden neu-metal (disclosure: some of which I liked), wire work galore in the often terrible fight sequences, and some lamentably dated 90s CGI.

Delroy Lindo does his best to remain interested and Statham’s performance is most notable for an awful US accent (which perhaps explains why in every subsequent film he has essentially played each character as himself), and Jet tries as hard as he can to make it easy to differentiate the two ‘Laws’ from each other, but it’s fair to say he mostly fails because he in real life I am positive that Jet Li is simply a nice guy – he just doesn’t do ‘surly’ well at all. It is also a huge (and repeated) failing by the US filmmakers to ignore Li’s natural abilities and athleticism in favour of obvious wire-work and el-cheapo computer assisted enhancements.

Final Rating – 5.5 / 10. The One should have been so much better, there is a solid film in this premise which probably exists in a parallel universe somewhere, but alas in ours this variant is teen-friendly wannabe tough mindless pap.

By the way if you can bear it the best line in the film is actually the last, though it is hilarious in a way that likely differs from the intent of the filmmakers.

Cradle 2 the Grave

DMX had a bit part in Romeo Must Die, as you can see above while I am a huge Jet Li fan, and I thought Aaliyah was quite tasty to look at.

I thought Romeo Must Die sucked more arse than a German porn star.

Nonetheless here we are. Another Jet Li action flick set in ‘urban’ (read: where black guys hang out) America, this time co-starring DMX and directed by the same guy who exhibited such vision in Romeo that I wondered why his seeing eye dog didn’t get a co-credit.

Now I couldn’t fathom how this project got off the ground, but then I realised that while DMX is horribly overrated and essentially talentless as a rapper, he has in fact sold tens of millions of albums to tens of millions of easily pleased undiscerning automatons. I can only imagine his thought process went something along the lines of well if they’re throwing money around to make shit movies I might as well star in one.

In fact I’m going to let DMX tell you about his film:

“Aiiight listen up Dog. The credits roll and they like all angular and shit, and we play this new bomb track with me and Eminem trading verses. Can you imagine DMX and this (over-rated) white boy? Oh it’s gon’ be tight yo!

So your boy X he all resourceful right, you know he do what he gotta do (he’s a criminal). But smart. Very smart. So me and my crew we like do this major job right with explosions and James Bond stuff, yeah real clever. And my crew got like that funny dud Anthony Anderson – yo we make him pretend he gay to this white dude, I thought of that, it’s off the hook. And we got some skinny Chappelle looking nigga (we couldn’t get Chappelle) and my girl Gabrielle Union, she like there for no reason… but them titties!

So we escape and hide on the roof of this train right – no-one looks on the roof Son – and the train move and Gabrielle she gon’ fall but I just too gallant and brave and I don’t let her fall, then I make a joke about her titties.

Aarf Aarf Aarf!

So the other dude on the poster he Jet Li right, man that dude want to work in America so bad I feel we gotta help him blow up. So I reach out to him and says Dog you can be in my movie. Now Jet he a cop right. And he from Taiwan or Canada or something, so he don’t know about the X, and he takes out one of my boys and steals the stones we just stole, that shit’s called a twist right? Now you know you can’t be taking out my boys, so me and Jet throw down and shit, and I about to take him down with my moves, when the phone rings and this is where things get mad hectic.

Some gang – they Asian – with an Asian hottie that look like she from one of my rap videos, THEY want my stones too. Want ‘em real bad. They take my daughter right. Now I’m a great Father – and I say so 37 times in the film, so me and Jet team up. He gets the stones, I get my baby back. Now the audience they don’t even know that this girl she ain’t my real daughter y’know, but I be all acting sad and shit like she is. Sounds tight right Dog? Well it get better.

There’s like this car chase right with a bunch of bad dudes on my tail, but I’m like a great driver, like a driving ingenius right Dog? We visit my boi in the joint for the 411, cos I got connection like that. I get to bust some caps, do some extreme racing, beat down some punk fools – I even let myself get taken down one time cos even the hero look vulnerable some time, you know for the dramatical tension. And my daughter, she be missin’ me, cos I a great Father right, did I mention that Dog?

Oh and I even let this little Canadian cat Jet get him some shine, he take on like 12, 13 MMA fighters, tough dudes y’know, and he all wired up but you can’t see the wires in the movie and he totally get his Tai Chi on and freak them dudes. I think this Jet guy, he could blow up Dog, like get heself a lead role in the future. And when he do I just hope he remembered the X got him there! Watch how you come up right?

There a bunch of fights near the end, bitches better believe I be gettin’ my daughter back right? I beat down some big dudes, Jet he take on some washed up 90s action guy, and the two chicks get theyself a sexy fight on. But I forgot the best part, Gabby she give this dude a striptease right? For no good reason right? You feeling’ me Dog?

And there be like 5 DMX songs all over the motional picture. You know that’s just how the X rolls! NOW WHERE MY DOGS AT?!?

Aaarfff, Aaaaarrrff, AAARRRFFF!!!!

Oh, one last thing, we try to get all multi-cultivated and shit, so we get Tom Arnold to bring the white boys in, now that is one funny fat old white dude…
Peace, love and death to all my enemies.

X out.”

Final Rating – 5 / 10. An ensemble cast with a shit ensemble of has beens and never weres, the only bona fide draw card Jet Li is underdone and misused, meaning in all seriousness the Gabrielle Union striptease is by far the best thing in the film.

You can google the striptease photos for yourself.

If DMX was in that scene I could totally understand him barking.

In summary

And after those three black holes of enjoyment Jet Li found himself permanently relegated to third or fourth banana in any English language film. The Expendables being a great example of America knowing that while it wants Jet Li in film – it unfortunately has no idea how to maximise his talents…

This has likely meant that like Jackie Chan the US will never see the best of another talented actor and martial artist. I hope they do better with Tony Jaa, though the early signs don’t look good at all.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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