Film: Romeo Must Die

Romeo Must Die is a 2000 martial arts action film directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, and starring Jet Li and Aaliyah.

An African American gang, headed by Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo), and a Chinese gang, headed by Chu Sing (Henry O) are at war on the streets of San Francisco over waterfront property rights. This rivalry culminates in the death of Po Sing, Chu's son, by an unknown assailant. In Hong Kong, Po's brother/Chu's other son Han Sing (Li), learns of Po's death, and promptly busts out of prison and heads to San Francisco to avenge him. Trish O'Day (Aaliyah) is the daughter of Isaak who does not want anything to do with her family's mob activities. Han meets with her and she ends up assisting him in trying to find his brother's killer. A romance also burgeons between them. Isaak has since decided to go legitimate for the sake of his children and become the part-owner of a stadium that will be built on the waterfront. The owners of waterfront properties who refuse to sell are being murdered, but by who? And are they the same persons that murdered Po?

The film is regarded as Jet Li's breakout role in Hollywood (though he had formerly played the villain in Lethal Weapon 4.) It was Aaliyah's first film and, due to her grossly untimely death the following year, her only good one.

Though the title, and the fact that it involves a guy and girl from rival crime gangs hooking up might give you the impression that this is a send-up of Romeo and Juliet; in reality Han and Trish's romance is not really a major plot point.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Trish takes out an assassin that Han was unable to defeat. Because Han manipulated her limbs because the assassin was a girl and he didn't want to hit a girl.
  • Ass Kicking Pose: One of the black guys uses the Crane Stance to mock Han, complete with screeching "waaaa" sound. Cue immediate kick in the fork.
  • Badass: Han.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames / Duel to the Death: A final battle occurs between Han and Po's murderer Kai in a Ring of Fire. This scene would be repeated in Cradle 2 the Grave, by the same director and also starring Jet Li.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Han is generally a nice guy but he will kick your ass if you ask for a fight.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Chu and Mac.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The death of Han's little brother Po, for whom he willing went to prison for in order to let him escape China, is what starts the plot.
  • Bloodless Carnage
  • Briefcase Blaster: Roth's bodyguard carries one.
  • Bullet Holes and Revelations
  • Cane Fu: Po knocks down a racist bouncer with his cane.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Vincent Roth.
  • Cry into Chest: A variant occurs between Trish and Han after Han has avenged his brother's death and witnessed his father commit suicide. He doesn't cry but his eyes are notably glassy as she hugs him.
  • Designated Girl Fight: A variant, as when Han discovers that an assassin out to get him is a woman, he immediately stops attacking her because he Wouldn't Hit a Girl, so Trish has to fight for him. Being that Trish doesn't know how to fight off an assassin on her own, Han manipulates her arms and legs so that technically she's the one doing the hitting For what it's worth, Trish does tell him that it's perfectly okay to defend yourself against a woman trying to kill you; it simply made him feel better to have her land the blows.
  • Destination Defenestration: Poor Colin.
  • Ditch the Bodyguards
  • Drives Like Crazy: Han. He is from Hong Kong.
  • Dissonant Serenity. Han. He is always calm, no matter what.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: It's obvious that Isaak loves his kids, and despite all his illegal goings, went through great lengths to give them a decent education, keep them out of the crime business, and go legit for them.
  • Famous Last Words: "Damn, that some cold shit."
  • Great Escape: When Han hears about his brother's death in prison, he promptly escapes.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Han won't hit girls. So when a woman attacks him, he comes up with an interesting compromise. He picks up Trish and swings her about in order to fight.
  • I Know Karate: Parodied and subverted. Big black gangster Maurice corners small Chinese man Han. Maurice does the crane stance because "Now, you know you ain't the only one that knows some shit," and Han immediately kicks out Maurice's supporting knee.
  • Innocent Bystander: Colin's girlfriend, who is killed with him.
  • Inspiration Nod: Besides the title, there are a few nods to Romeo and Juliet. The movie starts with a fight between two gangs that is broken up by an authority figure. There's also a scene involving a balcony.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: At the end, Han meets his father in his office. His father takes a gun out of his drawer and sets it on the desk as Han explains how he figured out the betrayal. As Han walks away down the hallway, a shot is heard, causing him to pause a moment before continuing.
  • Martial Arts and Crafts: Han adapts his kung fu to suit a pick-up football game.
  • Mob War: The whole plot.
  • Papa Wolf: Upon finding out who murdered his son Isaak went to strangle said person in a mindless rage. He also shot and killed the mook who had dared to manhandle Trish, despite being grievously wounded himself.
    • Averted with Chu, who is quite happy to let one son rot in prison and have his younger child killed in order to further his own goals.
  • Parental Favoritism: While it isn't explicit, there are implications throughout the movie that despite rejecting his father to become a police officer, Han has always been Ch'u's favored son and chosen heir apparent. His lack of regret in ordering Po's death further supports this.
  • Platonic Life Partners: Han and Trish's chemistry seemed more like this.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Po's death is what causes Han to escape prison and go to America.
  • Railing Kill: Mac, who is shot over a railing by Trish.
  • Security Cling: Trish does this to Han when they see some dead bodies.
  • Soft Water: Subverted. Colin and his girlfriend are killed from the impact or from drowning shortly thereafter.
  • The Starscream: Mac.
  • Stuff Blowing Up
  • Token Romance: Seriously, this film has scarcely anything to do with Romeo and Juliet. You could remove Han and Trish's romance (or even Trish's character if you get right down to it) and it would be exactly the same film. Even calling it a "romance" is a gross overstatement. The two share no intimate moments, not even a kiss, just a few hugs here and there.
    • It was played up as a romance initially, with the leads sharing a kiss or two, but it supposedly didn't go over well with prescreen audiences.
      • Apparently many of Jet Li's Asian fans were not too fond of seeing him being intimate with a black/non-Asian woman. Although another rumored reason for the lack of romance between Han and Trish was the age difference between the two actors (Aaliyah was about 19 or 20 at the time of filming and Jet Li was already in his mid-30's.)
  • The Triads and the Tongs
  • The Unfavorite: Kind of hard to pinpoint. While Po is the one who ended up going to America with his father, said father had him killed by his top lieutenant because he could possibly compromise a major business deal. Han on the other hand is the one who went to prison in order to help them escape China, though it's made clear it's not for his father's sake but for his brother, and that he rejected his father, by becoming a police officer. However, Ch'u seemed to favor him more than he did Po, and it's heavily implied that he always has despite Han's rebelliousness.
    • Isaak's son, Colin, wrongly thinks he is this or the "Well Done, Son!" Guy as his father won't let him help run his criminal empire but it's really due to Issak wanting a clean life for him. Sadly, Colin never gets the chance to fully understand or accept this before he is violently murdered.
  • Villainous Crush: Mac appears to have one on Trish, who is no fool and realizes his true colors. His attempt to woo her falls flat and she makes it clear that he is just an errand boy for her father and she wants nothing to do with him.
  • You Killed My Brother