Romeo Must Die is a 2000 American action film directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, his directorial debut, and starring Jet Li, Aaliyah, Anthony Anderson, Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington, Russell Wong, and features action and fight choreography by Corey Yuen. It is considered Jet Li's breakout role in the English speaking American film industry.
The film's plot is similar to 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 was the debut of R&B singer Aaliyah as an actress.
As the movie opens, 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 is found murdered.
Fearing retribution, real estate developer (and gang leader) Isak 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.
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 (D.B. 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 property 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 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. As 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, finally killing him. 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—no one will go to prison for him this time. As Han walks away, his father commits suicide with a handgun. He finds Trish waiting for him outside and the two walk away from the house together.
Jet Li – Han Sing
Aaliyah – Trish O'Day
Russell Wong – Kai
Delroy Lindo – Issak O'Day
Isaiah Washington – Mac
Anthony Anderson – Maurice
Henry O – Ch'u Sing
D.B. Woodside – Colin O'Day
Jon Kit Lee – Po Sing
Edoardo Ballerini – Vincent Roth
DMX – Silk
Matthew Harrison – Dave
Terry Chen – Kung
Derek Lowe – Chinese Messenger
Ronin Wong – New Prisoner
Kendall Saunders – Colin's Girlfriend
Benz Antoine – Crabman
Grace Park – Asian Dancer
Byron Lawson – jailer