Romeo Must Die is a 2000 American action film directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, being this movie his directorial debut, and having a fight choreography by Corey Yuen. The film stars Jet Li, Aaliyah, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, Delroy Lindo, Henry O, Anthony Anderson and DMX. The film was released in the United States on March 22, 2000.
It is considered Jet Li's breakout role in the English speaking American film industry.
The film's plot is similar to William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but instead of the last name, the families feud over race. The movie's setting was Oakland, California, but other than a few establishing shots, the film was entirely shot in Vancouver, British Columbia. This film is the debut of R&B singer Aaliyah as an actress.
Po Sing (John Kit Lee) is waiting for someone unknown in an African American club when Kai (Russell Wong) and his Asian henchmen come in and confront the owner of the club and his bouncers. After a brief fight, all are thrown out by the owner before the meeting can take place. The next day, Po was found murdered by a bicycle kid.
Fearing retribution, real estate developer and gang leader Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo) arranges for his henchmen to place security on both of his children. Meanwhile, Po's brother, Han (Jet Li), learns of the murder in the Hong Kong prison where he is serving time. After starting a fight in the mess hall, he escapes from prison by overpowering the guards who took him to an isolation cell for punishment and disguising himself as one of them.
Eventually, Han makes his way to Oakland, where he learns that a gang war seems to have erupted between Black and Asian gang families, including both O'Day and Han and Po's father, Ch'u Sing (Henry O), even while the two are apparently engaged in a joint business venture. He also learns that his brother called O'Day's daughter Trish's (Aaliyah) record store the day before he was killed. After a chance encounter with her, he follows her and learns that Po may have actually been calling Trish's brother, Colin (DB Woodside).
At his brother's funeral Han confronts his estranged father, blaming him for failing to keep Po safe as he promised he would after he helped the both of them flee to America to escape the Chinese authorities, an action which resulted in his own imprisonment especially when Han was a former police officer. Han learns that the war is apparently over control of the properties along the Oakland waterfront. Meanwhile, O'Day also reveals to his son that the deal he is working on will get their family out of the crime business for good, but that he must be careful. However, the apparent war over territory is really a cover for the two sides secretly working together to put together a deal for ownership of a new NFL franchise in Oakland.
Colin and his girlfriend are both killed by unseen assailants by being thrown out of his high rise apartment window. As Han comforts Trish, he learns that Po had put together a list of businesses that were either destroyed or being threatened with destruction for failing to sell their properties, and that Po was trying to contact Colin to warn him about this. The two visit one of the few remaining properties on the list and learn that the owner, a Chinese man, and his employees have been killed by a Chinese hit team. When Han confronts his father over this, he tries to deflect suspicion by telling him Trish may have been involved.
It is revealed that both sides in the fake war are using violence and intimidation to force the owners of all the waterfront properties to relinquish their rights over their properties. Trish and Han visit the last property on the list, the nightclub where Po originally intended to meet Colin, O'Day's chief lieutenant Mac and his goons kill the club's owner and kidnap both Trish and Han, taking them to separate locations. Han escapes by overpowering his guards.
Ch'u Sing has the other Chinese crime lords killed, ensuring that he will have control over their business interests. O'Day, Ch'u Sing, and the developer arranging the NFL deal meet at the Oakland Men's club to provide the deeds for the properties they now control. Sing takes a multi-million dollar payment and leaves, but O'Day refuses his payment, stating that his payment will be in the form of a share of ownership of the new franchise. He is betrayed, however, by Mac, who threatens Trish to force O'Day to hand over the deeds to the developer. O'Day, enraged by Mac's betrayal, grabs a gun and shoots Mac's men but is grievously wounded in the process. Han arrives and pursues Mac to the roof of the club. The developer escapes via helicopter, but not before losing all of the deeds after Mac fires repeatedly at the helicopter. Mac reveals to Han that it was Ch'u Sing's lieutenant Kai who had Po killed, just before Trish kills him.
At his father's house, Han engages in a brutal fight with Kai, killing him after suffering burn injuries to his hands. He then confronts his father, knowing now that his father had his own son killed "like running over a dog in the street" for no other reason than that he was interfering with a business deal. He tells his father that he will answer for his crimes, either to the American authorities or to the other Chinese families. As Han walks away, his father commits suicide with a handgun. Han finds Trish waiting for him outside and the two walk away from the house together.
Jet Li - Han Sing,
Aaliyah - Trish O'Day,
Isaiah Washington - Mac,
Russell Wong - Kai,
Delroy Lindo - Isaak O'Day,
DB Woodside - Colin O'Day,
Henry O - Ch'u Sing,
Jon Kit Lee - Po Sing,
Edoardo Ballerini - Vincent Roth,
Anthony Anderson - Maurice,
DMX - Silk,
Matthew Harrison - Dave,
Terry Chen - Kung,
Derek Lowe - Chinese Messenger,
Ronin Wong - New Prisoner,
Byron Lawson - Head Guard,
Kendall Saunders - Colin's Girlfriend,
Benz Antoine - Crabman,
Grace Park - Asian Dancer,
Byron Lawson - jailer,
According to the documentary The Slanted Screen, Han and Trish were supposed to have a kissing scene, which explains the title of Romeo, but this was met with derision from a pre-screening with an urban audience. Jet Li stated on his personal website that they had filmed both versions of the scene (with kiss and without), and decided to use the one without instead because it would be "somewhat strange and awkward" for Han to have witness his father's suicide and then to come out and kiss someone. The movie was filmed in 1999.
The critical reception was mixed to negative. The film currently has a 33% ("Rotten") rating from 91 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
Romeo Must Die debuted at No.2 at the U.S. box office behind in 1999's Erin Brockovich. The film was produced with a budget of US$25 million. In North America, Romeo Must Die was a box office success, earning a strong $18,014,503 (2,641 theaters, $6,821 per screen average) in its opening weekend. Romeo Must Dies total North American gross is $55,973,336. The film's worldwide box office gross is $91,036,760.
The film's soundtrack, Romeo Must Die: The Album, is a Hip hop and R&B soundtrack released by Blackground Records was released on March 28, 2000. It debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 selling 203,000 in its first week. The soundtrack sold 1.26 million copies by December 2000.
Produced by Aaliyah, Timbaland, Barry Hankerson, and Jomo Hankerson, it was recorded between May 1999 and January 2000. It includes four songs by Aaliyah, as well as works by Chante Moore, Destiny's Child, Ginuwine, Joe, Timbaland & Magoo and more. Three singles & videos were released from the album: Aaliyah's number one pop hit "Try Again" (directed by Wayne Isham), Aaliyah and DMX duet "Come Back in One Piece" (directed by Little X), and Timbaland & Magoo's "We At It Again" (directed by Chris Robinson (director)), which introduced Timbaland's younger brother, rapper Sebastian, to audiences. Q magazine included the soundtrack album in their list of the "5 Best Compilations of 2000".
"Try Again" - 4:44 (Aaliyah),
"Come Back in One Piece" - 4:18 (Aaliyah featuring DMX),
"Rose in a Concrete World" (J Dub Remix) - 4:50 (Joe),
"Rollin' Raw" - 3:59 (B.G. From Ca$h Money),
"We At It Again" - 4:45 (Timbaland & Magoo),
"Are You Feelin' Me?" - 3:10 (Aaliyah),
"Perfect Man" - 3:47 (Destiny's Child),
"Simply Irresistible" - 4:00 (Ginuwine),
"It Really Don't Matter" - 4:12 (Confidential),
"Thugz" - 4:12 (Mack 10 featuring The Comrades),
"I Don't Wanna" - 4:16 (Aaliyah),
"Somebody's Gonna Die Tonight" - 4:36 (Dave Bing featuring Lil' Mo),
"Woozy" - 4:10 (Playa),
"Pump the Brakes" - 4:27 (Dave Hollister),
"This Is a Test" - 3:20 (Chante Moore),
"Revival" - 4:57 (Non-A-Miss),
"Come On" - 3:50 (Blade),
"Swung On" - 3:15 (Stanley Clarke featuring Politix),
DVD was released in Region 1 in the United States on August 1, 2000 and Region 2 in the United Kingdom on 16 April 2001, it was distributed by Warner Home Video.