Being bedridden most of the day yesterday due to ongoing illness, my husband stayed with me and we watched a couple of movies. One in particular is called Romeo Must Die (2000) and it stars Jet Li and the late R&B singer Aaliyah (curiously we were watching this movie on the seventeenth anniversary of the late singer/actress’ death). My heart itself smiled when the movie started playing and immediate nostalgia overwhelmed me a bit at the old-school rap and R&B that is so reminiscent of my childhood. Not having seen the movie in forever, there were quite a few things refreshing about it. Looking at it through a different lens (for one who can see and understand it), there are several things to be noted.
The first thing to be noted about the movie from my view is that it, in essence, portrays a man’s game. Only men are to be found doing business and playing the key roles in any decision making in the entire movie. In fact, aside from the main character Trish (Aaliyah) there aren’t even any women to be found hardly at all in the movie. Even in the background when business dealings are going on there isn’t a single woman in sight. But in no manner is there even the slightest insinuation that women are somehow inferior. In fact, just the opposite is true.
The movie is rated R as there is language, violence (murder, fighting), and some brief drug use and brief slight nudity, but in no way is there to be seen in the movie any level of unnecessary crudeness or vulgarity that is so common in modern movies. There is no promiscuity, nor is there any offensive language or slurs against women. In fact, neither are there any racial slurs in the movie either- even amongst members of the same race (an unusual finding in a movie centering around two separate racial clans at war with one another).
One of the things that stirs my heart as well is the protective paternalistic nature of a lot of the movie. Trish’s father, brother and Jet Li (Han, whom Trish has a romance with in the movie) are all very protective of Trish. Trish is “independent” in the movie, but never in the sense that the typical modern woman today is. She has her own apartment and a small shop but she’s not a career woman nor is there any talk of her being one nor any push made upon her to be independent or assertive in any manner. Female empowerment is not a theme in the movie on any level.
Trish portrays a sweet, gentle and nurturing- yet brave- character in the movie. In the first scene where Trish comes into the movie, she walks out of her shop only to find one of the men who works for her father waiting for her. Since a member of the opposite warring clan was murdered, her father fears for her safety (the clan might retaliate) and sends protection. Trish is assertive in the sense that she stands up for herself and has strong moral values, but not assertive as one would expect the modern woman to be. She gives Maurice (the man her father sent to her) absolute Hell as she evades him, leading to her chance encounter with Han (a very comical encounter as he has just arrived in America and stolen a taxi car that Trish jumps into while attempting to hide from Maurice).
Trish has a close relationship with her slightly older brother. She berates her brother a bit whenever she finds him at her shop using the phone. Trish has children who hang around her shop and in the movie she seems to be a role model to the kids in a couple of different scenes (I find this notable for the overall way it portrays her character in the movie). She goes off on her brother a bit, telling him that she had asked him not to do his business there at her shop for the very reason that she has kids hanging around all the time. Afterwards though she does apologize and embraces her brother, telling him that she only worries about him.
Masculinity isn’t demonized in any manner in the movie. There is a lot of emphasis on knowing how to fight, being competent, doing business, honor, chivalry… Trish’s brother is murdered in the movie and one of the last things he was talking about was “being his own man” and breaking away out of his father’s shadow in order to prove himself.
After her brother’s murder and a few other events, Trish is sleeping (presumably in her own apartment) whenever her father comes and wakes her up, tapping her on the shoulder and attempting to immediately calm her so she wouldn’t worry, letting her know it was only him (as opposed to some stranger entering her room). He then tells her that she needs to come with him, and takes her back home with him to the house she grew up in. Trish doesn’t really protest and goes with her father, staying in her childhood bedroom at the house. Her father takes care of her, protects her and sees to her well-being. Her father then leaves for a minute to take a call, at which point Han (who has followed Trish to her father’s house) taps on Trish’s window.
Trish opens the window asking Han if he had lost his mind, informing him in a low voice that her father was just on the other side of the door. Trish then hides Han behind the door as she speaks there at the doorway with her father. Her father informs her that he has to go out, but that she’d be safe and provided for there in the house. After he leaves she then sneaks out of the house with Han like a teenager and the two go exploring a list of addresses Han has.
Running from and then finally being cornered by their assailant after finding a warehouse of slaughtered victims, Han gets out and faces their attacker in hand to hand combat while Trish is yet still in the car. After a brief time of fighting, the assailant’s helmet is removed to reveal a beautiful woman (the only time a woman is ever seen fighting in the entire movie). Han then ceases attacking, merely shielding himself from the woman’s blows. Trish is confused, at which point Han tells her “I can’t hit a girl”- and he never does.
Trish shoves open the passenger seat of the car door, slamming it into the other woman then exclaims to Han that “I don’t know how they do things in China but in America when a girl is kicking your ass you don’t have to be a gentleman.” Still unable to bring himself to hit a woman, Han instead uses Trish, swinging her around and directing her moves so that it is technically her, and not him, that is fighting the woman. In a world where it is seen as socially acceptable to purposely and deliberately place females in harm’s way (such as military combat), where entertainment is full of men and women fighting each other to the death and where modern men don’t even think twice about becoming aggressive against women or even physically attacking them at the slightest provocation, this is noteworthy. Even faced with a woman obviously trained to fight, Han’s moral values simply would not allow him to ever use force against a woman.
Though Romeo Must Die was never meant to be a children’s movie or even a family movie at all, a closer look at this movie (made in a world yet not that far gone in time) reveals (as odd as it may seem) that the moral values it portrays far exceed even the children and family movies of today’s era. This is always important as entertainment and the media often wield a profound influence over society/culture.
Beyond the moral aspects, of course, the movie is pretty bad-ass, filled with drama, action, comedy and a slight bit of innocent romance thrown into the mix. It gets a full five-stars in my book.