Martial artist Jet Li and R&B songstress Aaliyah star as Han, the Asian Romeo, and Trish O’Day, the Nubian Juliet in this two-fisted tale of star-crossed lovers. Han and Trish are the grown children of two warring crime families in near-future San Francisco, the Chinese Sings and the black O’Day’s.
When Han’s brother Po is murdered, Han escapes from a Hong Kong prison and travels to America to avenge his death. His investigations uncover a vast conspiracy to control the waterfront, pitting him against longtime friendly rival Kai (Russell Wong), Trish’s father, Isaak (Delroy Lindo), Isaak’s lieutenant Mac (Isaiah Washington) and even Han’s own father.
This movie is more kick ass than a donkey soccer match, and Jet Li is the kung fuiest hunk to come out of Hong Kong since Chow Yun Fat. He and Aaliyah crackle onscreen, especially in a fight sequence which could only be described as “Han and Trish’s First Dance.” They are supported by a solid cast of characters, notably the comic performance of Anthony Anderson, who played Mac’s gunman, Maurice.
The energy is furious in this film, the directorial debut of cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, who brilliantly balances comedy, tragedy and action. While there was nothing I haven’t seen in the rich Hong Kong cinema oeuvre, thrilling nonstop car chases, gun battles and explosions abound in Romeo Must Die. Of course, with Jet Li involved, it’s all about the kung fu. There are no-less-than half-a-dozen fight sequences, each melee topping the last. This doesn’t seem possible considering the amazing feats (and feet) performed, but each successive showdown becomes more and more incredible.
Although it’s not a faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by any stretch, Romeo Must Die is overflowing with the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy: revenge killings, secret treaties, power, lust, betrayal, kung fu and a soundtrack by Aaliyah and DMX.