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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Through teamwork and integrity, you can overcome a cruel and violent world -- even if it means using violence to achieve your goals. No one can be trusted, not even family members. Bad behavior has consequences, but following the rules and being honest won't always protect you from harm.
Positive Role Models
Han has a strong sense of what's right and wrong, plus perseverance, but he fights and steals to achieve his goals. Trish cares for her community and wants to make her own way in the world to escape her family's violent methods. Her father, Isaak, tries to make an exit plan from gang-related business. But the rest of the characters stab each other in the back and ruthlessly kill for money and power.
Loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Romeo Must Die centers on Chinese and Black gangs. Though many characters could be considered stereotypes -- Black men are mostly gang members, and Chinese characters do martial arts -- they have a wide variety of roles as business owners, prison guards, clubbers, kids at a park, etc. Very few movies (much less romances) star Black and Asian characters, making Romeo Must Die part of a tiny handful of films to do so, including 1997's Cinderella, Mississippi Masala, and The Sun Is Also a Star. Trish is the only female character in a leading main role, but she's clever and independent, yet protected by men and treated as precious -- which is counter-stereotypical for Black women, as most Hollywood titles prefer to portray Black women as inhumanly strong, both emotionally and physically. Small missteps include a few Hong Kong scenes dubbed in Mandarin when characters should be speaking Cantonese, a scene where Han uses a fire hose on Black men (which recalls police brutality against civil rights activists), and a same-sex kiss between women that's clearly intended for straight male viewers (a man watches them kiss). The film comes from a White Polish male director, Andrzej Bartkowiak, but overall, its iconic cast (which includes Delroy Lindo, Aaliyah, Jet Li, DMX, and Russell Wong) makes Romeo Must Die an inclusive snapshot of the early 2000s.
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Violence & Scariness
Tons of action violence and brandished guns, plus shootings (point-blank killings, assault rifles shot into the air, etc.) -- nearly all of it bloodless. A man hangs dead from a tree, characters crash through the windows of a skyscraper and fall into a river (next shown in a body bag with dried cuts on face), characters fight with various weapons (including a walking stick, broken bottles, bats, belts, etc.) and use martial arts. Brief glimpse of a pile of dead bodies. A high-speed car/motorcycle chase with automatic handguns ends with someone falling and being impaled on a wooden beam. Prison guards in riot gear rush a man and beat him with batons, then hang him upside down from a ceiling with the intent to torture. (The captured man fights his way out, with bone-breaking X-ray visuals and sound effects.) A boat explodes; a man burns his hand and screams as his bloodied palm is graphically scratched by his opponent. A man kills himself off-screen; a gunshot is heard. Expect sad scenes as characters grieve over the deaths of loved ones.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Characters at a nightclub kiss with tongue; a woman's dress strap is pulled down as they dance; her bare breast and nipple are briefly visible. In another scene, a woman appears in an open silk robe, wearing a bra and boy shorts underneath. Main characters flirt and briefly hold hands. A man's pants drop during a fight, revealing shiny briefs (played for comedy). A walking stick knob is shaped like a naked pin-up girl.
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"F--k" is used once. Plenty of uses of "s--t" and "ass." Less frequently, characters also say "bitch," "hell," "moron," and "goddamn," and use "God" and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations. A Chinese gang leader calls Isaak's gang "the Blacks."
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Products & Purchases
Characters drive Mercedes and Porsche cars, a Ghirardelli neon sign flashes, a China Airlines plane flies through the air. A character reads USA Today. The NFL makes up a small part of the plot, and Keyshawn Johnson and the Jets are mentioned. The film also stars musicians like Aaliyah and DMX; their songs are in the soundtrack.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters drink beer, wine, cognac, and cocktails and smoke cigarettes (including the main character, once). Characters roll weed and smoke joints in one scene -- they're quickly met with consequences. The main character finds a hidden compartment with white powder -- cocaine implied -- and blows it away.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Romeo Must Die is a martial arts gangster drama based on Romeo and Juliet that stars an iconic cast, including Jet Li, Aaliyah, Delroy Lindo, DMX, and more. It has lots of shooting and action violence. It's almost all bloodless, but it includes point-blank killings, a man hanging dead from a tree, glimpses of dead bodies, and a graphic scene of a man screaming as his palms burn and are tortured. "F--k" is used once, and there are plenty of uses of "s--t" and "ass." There's partial nudity when characters kiss with tongue and briefly undress on a dance floor, a bare breast visible. Though the movie is an adaptation of Shakespeare's famous play, it goes light on romance between the leads; they mostly just flirt and briefly hold hands. The film comes from a White Polish male director, but its mostly Black and Chinese cast, Black-Chinese romance, and Timbaland-produced soundtrack make Romeo Must Die memorably inclusive. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
A powerhouse cast and crew make this early-aughts martial arts movie into so much more than the sum of its parts. Romeo Must Die stars major talents like Jet Li, Aaliyah, Lindo, DMX, and Russell Wong as it blends two genres that you wouldn't normally find together: an American gangland drama and Hong Kong-style wirework and stunts. But accompanied by a smooth, Timbaland-produced hip-hop soundtrack and flipping, spinning, bone-crunching thrills by fight choreographer Corey Yuen (The Transporter, Lethal Weapon 4), these artists team up to create something magnetic, campy, and fun.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.