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An African American gang, headed by Isaak O'Day (Delroy Lindo), and a Chinese gang, headed by Chu Sing (Henry O) are at war on the streets of San Francisco over waterfront property rights. This rivalry culminates in the death of Po Sing, Chu's son, by an unknown assailant. In Hong Kong, Po's brother/Chu's other son Han Sing (Li), learns of Po's death, and promptly busts out of prison and heads to San Francisco to avenge him. Trish O'Day (Aaliyah) is the daughter of Isaak who does not want anything to do with her family's mob activities. Han meets with her and she ends up assisting him in trying to find his brother's killer. A romance also burgeons between them. Isaak has since decided to go legitimate for the sake of his children and become the part-owner of a stadium that will be built on the waterfront. The owners of waterfront properties who refuse to sell are being murdered, but by who? And are they the same persons that murdered Po?
The film is regarded as Jet Li's breakout role in Hollywood (though he had formerly played the villain in Lethal Weapon 4.) Though the title, and the fact that it involves a guy and girl from rival crime gangs hooking up might give you the impression that this is a send-up of Romeo and Juliet; in reality Han and Trish's romance is not really a major plot point.
This film provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion: Trish escapes from her father-appointed bodyguard, Maurice, by ducking out of a store when he's distracted. As she's escaping, you can hear him in the background shouting "Get your Aaliyah-looking ass back here, girl!" This was actually an ad-lib by the actor (comedian Anthony Anderson) that got a laugh out of her.
- Asskicking Pose: One of the black guys uses the Crane Stance to mock Han, complete with screeching "waaaa" sound. Cue immediate kick in the fork.
- Battle Amongst the Flames: A final battle occurs between Han and Po's murderer Kai in a Ring of Fire. This scene would be repeated in Cradle 2 the Grave, by the same director and also starring Jet Li.
- Bloodless Carnage
- Briefcase Blaster: Roth's bodyguard carries one.
- Bullet Holes and Revelations
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Vincent Roth.
- Cry Into Chest: A variant occurs between Trish and Han after Han has avenged his brother's death and witnessed his father commit suicide. He doesn't cry but his eyes are notably glassy as she hugs him.
- Dead Little Sister: Han has a dead little brother in Po, while Trish will have a dead older brother midway to the film.
- Destination Defenestration
- Ditch the Bodyguards
- Drives Like Crazy: Han
- Famous Last Words: "Damn, that some cold shit."
- Great Escape: When Han hears about his brother's death in prison, he promptly escapes.
- Grievous Harm with a Body: Han won't hit girls. So when a woman attacks him, he comes up with an interesting compromise. He picks up Trish and swings her about in order to fight.
- I Know Karate: Parodied and subverted. Big black gangster Maurice corners small Chinese man Han. Maurice does the crane stance because "Now, you know you ain't the only one that knows some shit," and Han immediately kicks out Maurice's supporting knee.
- I Know Madden Kombat: Han adapts his kung fu to suit a pick-up football game.
- Inspiration Nod: Besides the title, there are a few nods to Romeo and Juliet. The movie starts with a fight between two gangs that is broken up by an authority figure. There's also a scene involving a balcony.
- Leave Behind a Pistol: At the end, Han meets his father in his office. His father takes a gun out of his drawer and sets it on the desk as Han explains how he figured out the betrayal. As Han walks away down the hallway, a shot is heard, causing him to pause a moment before continuing.
- Mob War: The whole plot.
- Papa Wolf: Upon finding out who murdered his son, Isaak went to strangle said person in a mindless rage.
- Platonic Life Partners: Han and Trish's chemistry seemed more like this.
- Security Cling: Trish does this to Han when they see some dead bodies.
- The Starscream: Mac.
- Stuff Blowing Up
- Token Romance: Seriously, this film has scarcely anything to do with Romeo and Juliet. You could remove Han and Trish's romance (or even Trish's character if you get right down to it) and it would be exactly the same film.
- Even calling it a "romance" is a gross overstatement. The two share no intimate moments, not even a kiss, just a few hugs here and there.
- It was played up as a romance initially, with the leads sharing a kiss or two, but it didn't go over well with prescreen audiences.
- The Triads and the Tongs
- The Unfavorite
- You Killed My Brother