ROMEO SURVIVES. A whole damn zine about the feature film ROMEO MUST DIE.

cover of the zine

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Man, this movie is low key racist and embarrassing.” Well, buckaroo, I beg you to take a good long look in the mirror.

I am mixed, mixta, too many categories on bourgeois dna tests, so mixed that drunks at bus stops don’t know what to call me. But to some people (my family, for instance), living in that middle space not allowed. I’m Latinx, period, end of story, and I should get that tattooed on my neck and check those boxes on paperwork and I should have strong opinions about what is or is not an appropriate representation of “my race” on screen.

To be mixed is to live a life of imposter syndrome. However I act, I feel that I am culturally appropriating. Some people’s heritage is their playground, and they can rewrite their labels whenever they want. They are born with the superpower to live all truths without apology.

Romeo Must Die doesn’t apologize. Cigar smoking corporate machinations may be responsible for the multicultural makeup of Romeo Must Die. It is a movie-world where lines between conceptions of race are superficially erased and yet subliminally emboldened, a synthesis whose antithetical stripes remain delineated after all, like a soup that separated in the refrigerator. The texture didn’t remain perfect, but I still like the taste.

Game sees game. I feel a looming specter of embarrassment over this admission; it is not fashionable to reject labels of race, to identify as racially nonbinary or even trans-racial. Just look what happened to Rachel Dolezal. We need a new label for people like me who identify with the gray faceless putties more than any individual Power Ranger.

Despite the cracks in the foundation, Romeo Must Die is an important film. That’s right. Important. The soundtrack kicks major ass and released the immortal mega-hit “Try Again.” It has Jet Li in (arguably) his breakout role for the USA. It has on-screen interracial romance with an Asian man in a traditionally masculine romantic lead. That’s big. There are an unbelievable few examples of Asian “Men” in leading hetero-romantic roles in Hollywood movies without their masculinity undermined or their race turned into a punchline. There is Flower Drum Song, a 1961 musical that I’d never heard of, for better or for worse, until I started looking for landmark Asian roles in American cinema. Before Crazy Rich Asians and Steven Yeun on The Walking Dead, Romeo Must Die might be the best known example. Fucking crazy, right?

And yet…The Kiss That Never Was. Aaliyah and Jet Li were supposed to kiss at the end of Romeo Must Die. They even shot that ending. But in test screenings, audiences didn’t like it. If the kiss had happened, Romeo Must Die would have made history, made real progress, transcend its own superficiality and taken a stance. But who am I to say? I have fled from the political conversation of race. I don’t correct people when they call me white, brown, Jewish, Italian, or “Arabian.” I just try to do the best I can without getting hurt. Would the big money producers undermine their prospect of Romeo Must Die making its money back, just to “say something” about race and multiculturalism? Like Hell. They need more hundred dollar bills to light their cigars. Here’s a dark and disgusting question for you: would the public have accepted it? Would Black and Asian American audiences have accepted welcomed the kiss?

We must celebrate RMD for what it is; a baby step instead of a leap. Filled with dim sum jokes and bad driving jokes and the uncouth jabs at people’s vernaculars is as outdated as the use of X-Ray bone breaking CGI sequences. Compare these to Rush Hour, or half of the other Jackie Chan movies with the same sense of humor.

I’ve tried to include voices on the matter in these pages.

Despite the rough edges, you take what you can get when you’re looking for differently colored faces interacting on screen.

Plus, DMX.