PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
The son of the head of the local Chinese gang, Po Sing (Jon Kit Lee) gets into a confrontation at Silk’s Nightclub with several black gang members. Po’s bodyguards, led by Kai (Russell Wong), come to retrieve him. After a fight, Silk (DMX) and his bouncers drive the Chinese gang members out with assault rifles. Kai argues with Po over his stirring the current gang war by going into an enemy club, but Po brushes him off and drives off. In the morning he is found dead. Word quickly travels to his father Chu Sing (Henry O), as well as to the leader of the black gang, Isaak O’Day (Delroy Lindo). In Hong Kong, Po’s brother, Han Sing (Jet Li) learns of his brother’s death and escapes prison, heading to America.
Isaak sends Maurice (Anthony Anderson) to guard his daughter, Trish O’Day (Aaliyah), who accompanies her as she goes to a music store. She gives him the slip and jumps into a cab, which Han has just hot-wired. He agrees to drive her where she wants to go, and along the way they enjoy friendly conversation. Meanwhile Isaak meets with Vincent Roth (Edoardo Ballerini) to discuss his acquisitions of various waterfront lands so Roth can become a part owner of the city’s NFL football team and its new stadium. Isaak desires to go legitimate for his children.
In her store, Trish is upset to find her brother Colin O’Day (D.B. Woodside) there talking business, and reminds him that she wants nothing to do with their “gangster” business. After they argue, he tells her not to worry and that he loves her. Meanwhile, Han breaks into his dead brother’s apartment and discovers that the last number Po called was Trish’s store. At a diner, Isaak’s second in command, Mac (Isaiah Washington), confronts Trish and warns her to be careful due to the rising violence. When she arrives home, Han follows her into her apartment and asks her about the call. She suspects Po called Colin, and tells him so. Maurice and others arrive and find Han there. They try to fight him and are all defeated, after which Han steals Maurice’s SUV.
At Po’s funeral, Han confronts his father and demands to know who killed his brother, but his father does not answer. Kai tells him the two gangs are fighting for majority control of the waterfront property. Han meets again with Trish to see if she has learned anything more, and to enjoy flirting with her. That night, Colin and his girlfriend are thrown out of a window by an unidentified assassin. The next day, Po’s place is ransacked and Han finds Po’s car in the garage, where he examines Po’s cane and finds a list of addresses. He returns to the apartment where Trish is crying among the mess. After telling him of Colin’s murder, she asks for his help.
They start visiting the list of addresses on the list, and at the first find the Chinese owner has just been murdered. They spot the assassins leaving, who also spot them and give chase. During the chase and subsequent fight, Han discovers they are Chinese. He tells his father who dismisses it as a plot by Isaak and warns Han that Trish is just tricking him. Meanwhile Mac muscles a black fisherman out of his waterfront estate while Kai and his Chinese agents murder the owner and workers at a Chinese-owned waterfront business and steal their property deeds.
Isaak goes to Trish’s home and forces her to come to her childhood home for protection. When he warns her against being with Han, she asks if he had anything to with Po’s murder. Isaak promises that he did not and that he will make the Chinese pay for killing Colin. They later have a long talk, and he apologizes for not always being the best father and tells her he needs her in his life. Roth calls and interrupts, asking about the deeds. They agree to meet at Silk’s at 8:00 for the exchange, while Trish finds Han standing on her balcony.
Han and Trish head to Silk’s club, the only place on the list of addresses that has yet to be invaded or signed over. Everyone stares at them, so Trish drags Han to the dance floor. Silk goes down and calls them to his office to talk, asking what is going on. He explains that Isaak is buying up all the property, but that he is not selling. Mac comes in and murders Silk to take the deeds. Han is beaten unconscious, and comes to in a warehouse surrounded by Maurice and other gang members. In an extended fight sequence, Han manages to escape and goes to find Trish.
At the Oakridge Men’s Club, Isaak declines to sell the deeds, wanting to become a partner instead. Mac says he’s fed up with him and turns on him, revealing that he was working with Chu to kill any property owners who would not give up the deeds, and that Mac was the one who murdered Colin. An enraged Isaak attacks Mac, and is shot. A gunfight breaks out between Isaak’s folks and Roth’s bodyguards, leaving most of Isaak’s men dead. Roth flees with the deeds, but while fleeing he drops them from the helicopter and loses them. As Mac gathers them, Han confronts him about his brother, but Mac says it was done “in house” before pulling a gun. Trish arrives and shoots him off the roof. Inside, Isaak shakes Han’s hand before Han goes to Chu’s to confront his father.
First, Han must get through Kai, who tells him that he is the one who killed Po. After a lengthy fight, Han kills him, then meets with Chu who explains that he had to protect the business venture. He asks if Han will now kill him, but Han says he has avenged his brother and will leave it to the police and the families of the murdered Chinese property owners to deal with him. As he leaves, Chu kills himself.
Han meets with Trish and they share an embrace before walking away together.
There have been quite a few takes on the tale of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Some have been interesting, some have become Academy Award Winning feature films, others have been boring, some have even been quite…odd, but this one, Romeo Must Die, gives us something new, and that is a mixture of action, drama, and revenge, all without getting too sappy and sentimental.
Let’s face it, everyone knows the story of Romeo & Juliet, so to retell that anywhere except in high school classrooms these days wouldn’t make much sense. These filmmakers chose to give us a fresh take on the tale, one that won’t bore the audience to death.
The plot involves the sudden death of a Chinese gang leader’s son, which is attributed to the leader of an African-American gang, thus causing a gang war (which apparently was already going on). Over in Hong kong, the dead son’s brother hears of his death and escapes prison to avenge his brother’s death. Upon his arrival in America, he meets the other gang leader’s beautiful daughter, and aside from the initial loathing for each other, the forbidden romance begins. The film continues with a secondary plot of betrayal involving land deeds and the desire to buy the new Oakland NFL franchise.
I wasn’t too crazy about the story, to be honest with you, but once it got going, it was actually pretty good, especially the action scenes.
The climactic betrayal at the end kind of took me by surprise, but I guess I should’ve seen it coming.
Acting isn’t anything special here, but they don’t stink up the joint or try to quote classic Shakespeare in modern day.
The most impressive member of the cast, though, was Aaliyah. I’m not 100% sure if this was her acting debut, or just the one where everyone realized she could do more than sing and be a pretty face, but she really shines here and she has great chemistry with Jet Li, and Delroy Lindo, for that matter.
Anthony Anderson is in here just for the comic relief. The guy is a comedian, so I can’t really fault him for that. However, it seems as if he plays the same role almost everytime I see him.
At it’s heart, this film wants desperately to be an action flick. In the action scenes, it can rival many of the great modern-day martial arts films. I was particularly impressed with the X-ray scenes. If you’ve seen the new Mortal Kombat game, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. That same technique is used in this film. I wonder if this is where they got it from.
So, what is my final verdict on Romeo Must Die? Well, if you’re looking for some hardcore drama like almost every other take on this tale, this will disappoint you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for some hardcore action flick, you’ll be disappointed, as well. This is a film that brings both worlds together, and does it very well. Is it worth the time to watch? Yes, but don’t go out of your way to see it. It’s good, but not really great.
4 out of 5 stars