Romeo Must Die
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrzej Bartkowiak
Screenplay by
Story byMitchell Kapner
Produced by
CinematographyGlen MacPherson
Edited byDerek G. Brechin
Music by
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • March 24, 2000 (2000-03-24) (United States)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[3]
Box office$91 million[3]

Romeo Must Die is a 2000 American action film directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak in his directorial debut, featuring fight choreography by Corey Yuen, and starring Jet Li and Aaliyah in her film debut which also marked the sole film released during her lifetime. It follows a Chinese former police officer travelling to the United States in order to avenge his brother's death. He also falls in love with a rival mobster's beautiful daughter as they struggle together against both the Chinese and the American mobs. The film's plot is loosely related to William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet but transplanted to contemporary Oakland, California, with the feuding families becoming African-American and Chinese-American gangs.

Frustrated about the lack of originality in Hollywood action films, producer Joel Silver built the film around Hong Kong action films. He cast established Hong Kong film actor Jet Li, following his role in Lethal Weapon 4. R&B singer Aaliyah was cast, and sung the soundtrack's lead single "Try Again" which topped the US Billboard Hot 100.

Romeo Must Die was released by Warner Bros. Pictures in the United States on March 24, 2000. Despite mixed critical reviews, it was a box office success, grossing $91 million against a production budget of $25 million. The film was also considered Li's American film breakthrough[4] and Aaliyah's acting breakthrough. Retroactively, the film has also received attention for the pairing of an Asian-American and African-American in the lead roles.[5]


Po Sing, the youngest son of Chinese Triad boss Ch'u Sing, is accosted by African-Americans in a nightclub in Oakland, California. He is rescued and then admonished by Kai, Ch'u's chief lieutenant. Po leaves the club, but is found murdered the next day.

Han Sing, a skilled martial artist and former police officer who has been imprisoned in Hong Kong, learns of his brother's death and escapes. He travels to Oakland to investigate, where Ch'u is engaged in a joint business venture with Isaak O'Day, a black real estate developer and gang leader. The two have been acquiring deeds to properties along the waterfront to sell to Vincent Roth, a business magnate who plans to buy a new NFL franchise and build a stadium. Despite Ch'u's assurances that their partnership remains intact, Isaak fears retribution following Po's death and has his chief lieutenant, Mac, place security details on his son Colin and his daughter Trish, the latter of whom refuses to be involved in her father's illegal enterprises.

In a chance encounter, Han befriends Trish by helping her ditch her assigned security, and then discovers Po called Trish's clothing store the day before he was killed. At his brother's funeral, Han confronts his estranged father, blaming him for failing to protect Po after Han helped them both flee to America to escape Chinese authorities, which resulted in Han's imprisonment. Kai informs Han that Po's death has been the result of the escalating gang war between the Chinese and African-Americans. Meanwhile, Colin tells his father that he was supposed to meet someone at the club to discuss information that could end the war. That night, Colin and his girlfriend are murdered by an unseen assailant.

Trish and Han team up, and realize that Po wanted to show Colin a list of businesses that were either destroyed or being threatened for failing to sell their properties. The two visit one of the remaining businesses on Po's list, but the Chinese owner and his employees have been killed. After killing the Chinese hitmen responsible, Han questions his father, who deflects suspicion by suggesting Isaak may have used outside contractors. Later, Ch'u is shown ordering the death of several other Triad bosses to acquire their territories. Trish and Han visit the last holdout on Po's list: the nightclub where Po was last seen. The duo meet with the owner, but Mac arrives and kills him for his deed, and then abducts Trish and Han. At a remote location, Han defeats Mac's henchmen and goes to rescue Trish.

Isaak and Ch’u meet with Roth to sell him the deeds for the properties they now control. After Ch’u takes a multimillion-dollar payment and departs, Isaak refuses his payment, stating that his compensation will be in the form of an ownership share of the new franchise. An enraged Mac threatens Isaak to take the deal, using Trish as a hostage. He also reveals that the "gang war" was a ruse he and Ch'u concocted to cover their murder and intimidation of businessmen who refused to sign away their properties, and admits to killing Colin. In the ensuing shootout, Isaak is wounded while Roth escapes via helicopter, but Mac shoots Roth's briefcase out of his hand and the deeds scatter into the wind. Han arrives and confronts Mac about his brother, who reveals that it was the Chinese who killed Po, and is about to shoot Han when Trish shoots and kills Mac first. Trish waits with her father for an ambulance while Han leaves to find Ch'u.

At the Sing compound, Kai admits he personally killed Po for interfering with Ch'u's dealings with Roth. Han engages Kai in a fist fight, and eventually kills him. Han berates his father for killing Po out of greed, and declares that he will leave him to be punished by either the police or the other Triad families. As Han walks away, Ch'u picks up his gun and commits suicide. Han finds Trish waiting for him outside, and the two walk away together as the police arrive.



During the late 1990s, the producer Joel Silver became annoyed that he did not see anything fresh or original in American action films. For inspiration, he turned to Hong Kong action cinema, where Jet Li was an established movie star. In addition to the influence of Hong Kong martial arts films, the production team also introduced a new visual effect technique: the presentation of martial arts fighting in X-ray vision. They initially experimented with it for a single fight scene with Jet Li and tested it in front of an American audience, which gave an overwhelmingly positive response, before using it in more action scenes throughout the film.[6]

The film's setting is Oakland, California, but other than a few establishing shots, film production was entirely in Vancouver, British Columbia. Principal photography began on May 3, 1999 and ended on July 23, 1999.[7][8] Filming locations included Gastown, Grandview–Woodland, Vanier Park, Chinatown, Versatile Pacific Shipyards, and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

According to the documentary The Slanted Screen, Han and Trish were supposed to have a kissing scene, which explains the title of Romeo, but this did not test well with an urban audience.[9] Jet Li stated on his personal website that they had filmed both versions of the scene (with kiss and without), and decided to use the latter because it would be "somewhat strange and awkward" for Han to have witnessed his father's suicide and then to come out and kiss someone.[10]


Romeo Must Die debuted at #2 at the U.S. box office behind Erin Brockovich, which had come out a week earlier.[11][12][13] The film was produced with a budget of US$25 million. In North America, Romeo Must Die earned $18,014,503 (2,641 theaters, $6,821 per screen average) in its opening weekend. Romeo Must Die's total North American gross is $55,973,336. The film's worldwide box office gross is $91,036,760.[3]

It was released in the United States on DVD on August 1, 2000,[14] and on Blu-ray on August 14, 2012.[15]

Critical reception

The film has a 32% approval rating from 94 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator; the critical consensus reads: "In his second Hollywood movie, Jet Li impresses. Unfortunately, when he's not on screen, the movie slows to a crawl. Though there's some spark between Jet and Aaliyah, there isn't any threat of a fire. And as impressive as the action sequences are, some critics feel they are over-edited."[16]

Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times called the movie "dreary" but said it was bound to be a hit due to its combination of martial arts action and hip hop.[17] Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Graham likened it to The Matrix, describing it as a "cross-cultural kung fu extravaganza" that shines during Li's stunts.[18] In his review for the Chicago Tribune, Rene Rodriguez said the film is "needlessly convoluted" and should not have added special effects on top of Li's stunts, which he said makes them seem less impressive because of the artificiality.[19] Roger Ebert rated the film 1.5/4 stars and also criticized the use of computer-generated special effects in a martial arts film, saying that it "misses the point" of having audiences be impressed by realistic stunts.[20] Aaliyah received praise for her role.[21]


Romeo Must Die: The Album
Soundtrack album by
Various artists
ReleasedMarch 28, 2000 (2000-03-28)
RecordedMay 1999-January 2000
Singles from Romeo Must Die
  1. "Try Again"
    Released: March 21, 2000
  2. "Come Back in One Piece"
    Released: June 6, 2000
Professional ratings
Review scores
Robert ChristgauA–[23]
Entertainment WeeklyA–[24]

The film's soundtrack, Romeo Must Die: The Album, is a hip hop and R&B soundtrack released by Blackground Records and Virgin Records America in association with Warner Bros. Records (who helped co-financed the soundtrack) on March 28, 2000. It debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 selling 203,000 in its first week.[27] The soundtrack sold 1.3 million copies by the end of 2000[28] and 1.5 million copies in the US as of 2001.[29]

Produced by Aaliyah, Timbaland, Barry Hankerson, and Jomo Hankerson, it was recorded between May 1999 and January 2000. It includes four songs by Aaliyah, as well as works by Chante Moore, Destiny's Child, Ginuwine, Joe, Timbaland & Magoo and more. Three singles & videos were released from the album: Aaliyah's number one pop hit "Try Again" (directed by Wayne Isham), Aaliyah and DMX duet "Come Back in One Piece" (directed by Little X), and Timbaland & Magoo's "We At It Again" (directed by Chris Robinson), which introduced Timbaland's younger brother, rapper Sebastian, to audiences. Q magazine included the soundtrack album in their list of the "5 Best Compilations of 2000".[30]

2021 rerelease

In August 2021, it was reported that Aaliyah's recorded work for Blackground (since rebranded as Blackground Records 2.0) would be re-released on physical, digital, and, for the first time ever, streaming services in a deal between the label and Empire Distribution[31][32][33][34][35][36] "Romeo Must Die: The Album" was rereleased September 3, 2021.

Track listing

Romeo Must Die: The Album
No.TitleWriter(s)Original artistLength
1."Try Again"S. Garrett; Timothy MosleyAaliyah4:45
2."Come Back in One Piece"B. Worrell; E. Simmons; George Clinton; Irv Gotti; R. Meys; S. Garrett; W.O. CollinsAaliyah featuring DMX4:19
3."Rose in a Concrete World (J Dub Remix)"J. Thomas; J.P. ThompsonJoe4:50
4."Rollin' Raw"B. Thomas; G. DorseyB.G. From Hot Boys4:00
5."We At It Again"G. Mosley; M. Barcliff; S. Garrett; Timothy MosleyTimbaland & Magoo featuring Static Major & Sebastian4:45
6."Are You Feelin' Me?"M. Elliott; Timothy MosleyAaliyah3:11
7."Perfect Man"Beyoncé; Eric Seats; Rapture StewartDestiny's Child3:47
8."Simply Irresistible"B. Kidd; S. Garrett; Timothy MosleyGinuwine4:01
9."It Really Don't Matter"E. Ruiz; F. Ferraro; J. Walker; J.E. Figueroa; L.M. Vizzo; Scalere, R. Jr.Confidential4:08
10."Thugz"A. Banks; D'Mon Dedrick Rolison; K. Garman; T. AndersonMack 10 featuring The Comrades4:13
11."I Don't Wanna"D. Scantz; J. Austin; Jazze Pha; Kevin HicksAaliyah4:16
12."Somebody's Gonna Die Tonight"C. Loving; D. Bing; Irv Gotti; Robin MaysDave Bing featuring Lil' Mo4:36
13."Woozy"B. Bush; J. Peacock; M. Brown; S. GarrettPlaya4:10
14."Pump the Brakes"B. Bush; E. Seats; R. StewartDave Hollister4:27
15."This Is a Test"Chanté Moore; Eric Seats; Rapture Stewart; Stephen GarrettChante Moore3:20
16."Revival"J. Walker; K. Dang; M. CalaguasNon-A-Miss4:57
17."Come On"A. Moody; S. HolderBlade3:50
18."Swung On"McKinley, Myron "Elfilin"; Stanley ClarkeStanley Clarke featuring Politix3:16
Total length:74:40

Weekly charts

Chart (2000) Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA)[37] 15
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[38] 18
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[39] 15
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[40] 14
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[41] 4
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[42] 59
French Albums (SNEP)[43] 60
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[44] 6
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[45] 17
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[46] 18
UK R&B Albums (OCC)[47] 14
US Billboard 200[48] 3
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)[49] 1


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[50] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[51] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[52] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

See also


  1. ^ Basham, David (February 18, 2000). "Aaliyah, DMX, Ginuwine Pitch In for "Romeo" LP". MTV News. Retrieved May 14, 2022.
  2. ^ Mitchell, Gail (March 4, 2000). "The Rhythm and the Blues". Billboard. p. 43. Retrieved May 14, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c "Romeo Must Die". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2015-05-14.
  4. ^ Noxon, Christopher (2001-07-04). "Taking a Fast-Track Career in Stride". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  5. ^ Loayza, Beatrice (August 27, 2021). "The Imperfect Legacy of Romeo Must Die". Vulture. Vox Media. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
  6. ^ Yu, Sabrina Q. (2012). Jet Li: Chinese Masculinity and Transnational Film Stardom. Edinburgh University Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-7486-8955-2.
  7. ^ "Home | Pressroom".
  8. ^ "Romeo Must die (2000) - IMDb". IMDb.
  9. ^ Jose Antonio Vargas (2007-05-25). "'Slanted Screen' Rues The Absence Of Asians". The Washington Post.
  10. ^ Li, Jet. "Jet's Message 7". Archived from the original on 2004-08-08. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  11. ^ "Martial arts moves get a hip-hop flair". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
  12. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (2000-03-28). "Weekend Box Office; 'Erin Brockovich' Holds Off 'Romeo'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
  13. ^ Natale, Richard (2000-04-03). "A 'Beauty' of a Weekend for Oscar Winner; Box office * Best picture award pays off; 'Brockovich' hangs on to the No. 1 spot. 'Skulls,' 'Fidelity' debut well". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
  14. ^ Beierle, Aaron (2000-07-21). "Romeo Must Die". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2015-05-14.
  15. ^ "Romeo Must Die - Blu-ray - IGN". IGN. Retrieved 2015-05-14.
  16. ^ "Romeo Must Die (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2021-04-08.
  17. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (2000-03-22). "FILM REVIEW; Hip-Hop Joins Martial Arts but Lets Plot Muscle In". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-15.
  18. ^ Graham, Bob (2010-09-11). "Romeo Must Die' Flies On the Strength of Jet Li". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  19. ^ Rene Rodriguez (2000-03-23). "Convoluted Subplots Kill Off 'Romeo Must Die'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  20. ^ "Romeo Must Die". Chicago Sun Times. 2000-03-22. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  21. ^ "Aaliyah: A 'beautiful person's' life cut short". CNN. 2001-08-27. Retrieved 2014-10-14.
  22. ^ Mathis, Dennis. "Romeo Must Die - Original Soundtrack : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
  23. ^ Christgau, Robert (May 30, 2000). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
  24. ^ Seymour, Craig (March 31, 2000). "Romeo Must Die Review". Entertainment Weekly. New York. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
  25. ^ "Review: Romeo Must Die". Mixmag. London: 177. October 2000. Archived from the original on December 25, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
  26. ^ "Review: Romeo Must Die". Q. London: 119. November 2000. Archived from the original on December 25, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
  27. ^ " - News - 'NSYNC On Top Again As Aaliyah, Drag-On Hit Chart". MTV. 2002-06-05. Archived from the original on June 5, 2002. Retrieved 2013-11-09.
  28. ^ Basham, David (December 29, 2000). "Best Selling Records of 2000". Billboard. Billboard. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  29. ^ Basham, David (December 29, 2000). "Blackground Readying Aaliyah's Return". Billboard. Billboard. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  30. ^ "5 Best Compilations of 2000". Q. London: 95. January 2001. Archived from the original on December 25, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2012.
  31. ^ "Aaliyah albums streaming: 'Her influence is absolutely everywhere'". BBC. 20 August 2021. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  32. ^ Minsker, Evan (20 August 2021). "Aaliyah's One in a Million Arrives to Streaming Amid Dispute Between Label and Estate". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  33. ^ Legaspi, Althea (20 August 2021). "Stream Aaliyah's 'One in a Million' Album". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  34. ^ "IStandWithAaliyah". 5 August 2021. Retrieved 20 August 2021 – via Twitter.
  35. ^ "Aaliyah's Estate Slams Her Uncle's 'Unauthorized' Announcement of Releasing Her Music To Streaming Platforms". 4 August 2021. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  36. ^ DeVito, Lee (5 August 2021). "Aaliyah estate denounces upcoming 'unauthorized projects' as 'Blackground 2.0' emerges". Metro Times. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
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  40. ^ " – SOUNDTRACK – ROMEO MUST DIE" (in French). Hung Medien. Retrieved 2015-12-04.
  41. ^ Top Albums/CDs peak
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  43. ^ " – SOUNDTRACK – ROMEO MUST DIE". Hung Medien. Retrieved 2015-12-04.
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  46. ^ " – SOUNDTRACK – ROMEO MUST DIE". Hung Medien. Retrieved 2015-12-04.
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  50. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Various Artists – Romeo Must Die - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". Music Canada.
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  52. ^ "American album certifications – SOUNDTRACK – ROMEO MUST DIE". Recording Industry Association of America.