I went to see this movie in the theaters, lured by my interest in three things: the plays of William Shakespeare, the city of Oakland, California--where I was living when the movie was released--and the visual ballet of martial arts (and the reputation of Jet Li in this regard).
Romeo Must Die disappointed me on all three counts.
There are two feuding families in the film, and that's where the similarity to Romeo and Juliet ends. The families, one Chinese-American and one African-American, each happen to be heavily involved in crime. Jet Li crosses the territorial and racial divide by enlisting the help of Aaliyah to determine who murderered his brother. There is no romance, just Isaiah Washington pointing a gun at Li and saying, "Sorry Romeo, but you gotta die."
As for the setting: the waterfront of Oakland, I never actually got to see any of it, as the filmmakers attempt to pass off the graceful beauty of Vancouver, British Colombia as vibrant, funky Oakland, California. The choice of Oakland, however strategic it might be to attract African-American audiences, managed to cripple the plot, centered as it was on a feud over which crime family could lure an NFL franchise to the city. To any audience members who follow professional American football, this made no sense as the Raiders had been a fixture in Oakland from 1960–1982, and returned to the city in 1995.
As for visual ballet, that was absent, too. The use of CGI, wires, and frenetic, music-video style editing obscured any martial arts talent that Jet Li has, except for one scene (where the editor allows you to see him complete his moves) where he beats the crap out of Françoise Yip-- but because his code of honor (or something) prevents him from hitting a woman with his bare hands, he picks up Aaliyah, and uses her as a weapon.
Apart from this brief scene, the only other redeeming features of this movie are the screen presences of Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington, and Russell Wong, who deserve better movies.