When former Hong Kong cop Han discovers his wayward brother has been killed in a gang war, he escapes from prison and makes his way to the streets of San Francisco. There he forms the focus of a factional war between the Chinese and black gangs, and falls for the rival mob bosses daughter.
Jet Li, a very hip martial artist-type - 'Fist Of Legend' is his calling card but he's probably best known for his bad guy duties in 'Lethal Weapon 4' - can hardly be described as a marquee name.
Yet with 'The Matrix' putting kung fu back into vogue, Joel Silver has endeavoured to capitalise on the awesome 'wushu' talents of the diminutive star, while still being savvy enough to fuse them with the hip hop scene to cover his bets. This is a kung fu movie, but it gears up to punching dance beats, and features stars of the scene Aaliyah and DMC to raise the credibility factor.
The fighting - which is, in reality, why anyone is going to show up - intends to glorify the lithe and lethal Li's craft to the full, as he swans into the midst of a gang war - for prime real estate - in search of vengeance. But director Bartkowiak works on the notion that the audience has an attention span of nanoseconds, and proceeds to edit his selling point into a set of furious stops and starts - just glimpses and shadows of something coolly balletic, but never enough to allow you to assemble the stunt in your head.
There's a smart CGI gimmick that cuts to an x-ray of splintering bones, but this rapido style touches neither the otherworldly graces of 'The Matrix' nor the unflinching realities of Bruce Lee.
Meanwhile, any actual link to Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers is entirely tenuous - simply that son (Han) and daughter (Trish) of rival factions (run by Delroy Lindo's pompous Isaak and Henry O's Ch'u Sing) fall in love. And with zero chemistry at that.
Trendy garb notwithstanding, this is lumpy, derivative stuff that reminds you less of kung fu's new vogue than those godawful actioners that made Steven Segal famous for about 30 seconds a year or two back.
Great Kung Fu set pieces that are edited so fast that they are impossible to watch. Clunky and unoriginal, this does little to advance the new trend of martial arts movies.