At the age of 15, this movie was one of my favorites. For that "Romeo Must Die" gets some credit for helping to kick start my love for kung fu films. Beyond that though, upon finding my copy to re-watch it, this is a pretty piece of shit Americanized film that tries to so hard to blend the popular gangster rap culture with Asian stunt/fight work that it forgets it was supposed to have a script or acting. Shame.
Han (Li) must escape prison in Hong Kong to find his way to LA when his brother is killed. There is a war between his family and that of the African American O'Days for land on the LA waterfront that is being bought for an NFL expansion team. The war begins to get out of hand as betrayals rip through both families. Han uses the help of the daughter of the O'Day's, Trish (Aaliyah) to get to the bottom of this disturbing bought for power between two large gang families.
Supposedly this is supposed to be a film that modernizes "Romeo And Juliet". "Romeo Must Die" sort of just rips off the basic concept for the great play and then forgets about being clever with it at all. It's a concept that should have been a very cool and intriguing way to modernize the tale for the new audiences, but it sorely fails on that account.
So if its general idea fails, then it better have a stellar execution to make up for it. It doesn't. It's first time directed by a Polish cinematographer (who later went on to give us even more shitty classics like "Cradle 2 The Grave", "Exit Wounds", and "Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li"!!) who lets us see all of his amateur flaws. For a guy that helped reinvigorate mainstream kung fu success in America, he certainly can't direct a good fight sequence despite having the every fun Corey Yuen choreograph it. The script also sports some very confusing and ill explained plot leaps and some seriously bad dialogue. It never gets a solid focus and constantly feels awkward. The romance between Li and Aaliyah is shoddy at best and the oddly placed and low brow humor only makes the film feel like it was made for 15 year old boys.
In all honesty, I do have a special place in my heart for "Romeo Must Die" since it was one of my first films to see with Jet Li. Besides that, this film really frustrates me since there are so many BETTER American kung fu films out there. This one is just awkward from moment one with its awful credits and it never gets better. There are a lot of things that could have gone right with this film, but almost none of it did.
Written By Matt Reifschneider