“Romeo Must Die” was directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak in his directorial debut, despite working on other films such as “Speed”, “The Devil’s Advocate”, “Twins” & “Lethal Weapon 4”. The film stars Jet Li, Aaliyah, Deroy Lindo, Isiah Washington, Russell Wong, Henry O, Anthony Anderson, DB Woodside, DMX & Edoardo Ballerini. The film is a retelling of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” but with a modern twist.
In Oakland, California, a young man by the name of Po Sing is brutal murdered after leaving a nightclub. Po is the youngest son of Ch’u Sing (Henry O), a real estate agent and Chinese mobster who has a partnership with Isaac O’Day (Lindo). Word spreads throughout both camps of Po’s murder. Even reaching Po’s older brother & Ch’u oldest son, Han (Li) who serving time in a Chinese prison for his father’s crimes. Han manages to escape the prison and head to the U.S. Meanwhile, Isaac growing concerned, requires maximum protection for his son, Colin (Woodside) & daughter, Trish (Aaliyah). Isaac’s chief of staff, Mac (Washington) stays with Colin while the flunky, Maurice (Anderson) stays with Trish. Han begins his investigation by going to his brother’s apartment and learning that Po & Colin have been in contact for some time and trying find a way to end the family feud. Han meets Trish and asks for her help. The 2 begin some what of a romantic friendship but it turns dark after Colin is murdered. Now, Han & Trish are on the same paths trying to find out what’s really going on with their family affairs which leads to corruption within their own organizations with Mac, Ch’u, Kai (Wong) Ch’u’s right hand man, the nightclub owner Silk (DMX) and even a NFL Owner, Vince Roth (Ballerini) all conspiring against one another for power, money and respect with little or no reguards for collateral damage. Han & Trish must stop all of it before they become the next target or lose anymore family members.
In 1999, “The Matrix” had raised the bar as far as visuals and action sequences. “Romeo Must Die” takes the “Jackie Chan” approach by bringing in an foreign action star in Jet Li and with his martial arts background and foreign star power, the film has a slew of great action sequences and fight scenes. While the story is a bit cliche, it serves its purpose. Aaliyah’s performance is quite remarkable for her debut feature. While Li’s character is the typical revenge arc, Aaliyah has the best story arch from beginning to end. The rest of the cast is solid and the movie carries on like a typical revenge thriller, there’s no denying the fact that this movie would standout from what was to come in the early 2000s action films. I’ve heard many people say that there is no chemistry at all between Li & Aaliyah but then again this isn’t a typical love interest storyline. Personally, their characters are just bought together by tragic events and head on the same path in search for the same outcome. Period. Almost like a buddy cop film.
Many people consider this film to be Jet Li’s breakout film, which is technically true seeing as this was his first starring role in the U.S. Li was in 1998’s “Lethal Weapon 4” and would go on to star in 2001’s “The One” & “Kiss of the Dragon“, 2003’s “Cradle 2 the Grave” and 2005’s “Unleashed” as well “The Expendables” trilogy. Li is also set to star the 2020 live action version of Disney’s “Mulan”. Aaliyah continued her thriving music career and as well as her movie roles. She would star in the 2002 horror film, “Queen of the Damned”. She was set to star in the 2003 sequels of “The Matrix” series, “Reloaded” & “Revolutions”. Sadly, on August 25, 2001, Aaliyah along with 8 others would be killed in an airplane crash outside of The Bahamas. “Romeo Must Die” would have moderate success at the box office but has gained a cult following after its rerelease in 2012 along with apart Aaliyah’s legacy.