Skip to main content

Romeo Must Die has grown to become a fan-favorite and cult classic in the decades after its release. But there are still some things that bother fans about it all these years later — like how Jet Li and Aaliyah went the entire movie without ever kissing, despite being cast as lovers.

There have been plenty of rumors surrounding the reason behind this, including the far-out claim that Li was allergic to Aaliyah’s lipstick. But Li actually opened up about the lack of love scenes in the past. Find out why they didn’t kiss and more about the film, below.

Jet Li and Aaliyah
Jet Li (as Han Sing) and Aaliyah (as Trish O”Day) in ‘Romeo Must Die’ | Kharen Hill 2000 Warner Bros

What is ‘Romeo Must Die’ about?

Romeo Must Die is an action film that is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In it, Jet Li plays Han Sing, a former police officer seeking vengeance after his brother is killed in what he believes to be an attack by a rival gang. Along the way, Han falls for Trish O’Day (Aaliyah), the daughter of the head of the rival gang, and the two set out to find justice together.

The movie was filmed throughout 1999 and debuted in March of 2000. It performed well at the box office, drawing over $90 million from a $25 million budget. However, the reviews weren’t very positive. It earned a measly 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.1 out of 10 on IMDB, though Aaliyah’s performance received praise from critics.

There was little intimacy between Jet Li and Aaliyah’s characters in ‘Romeo Must Die’

Despite being based on one of the most romantic pieces of work ever, the movie isn’t very romantic. Throughout its hour-and-a-half runtime, it doesn’t feature any major love scenes between Li and Aaliyah’s characters — not even a kiss. Instead, the most viewers get to see is a little teasing and a few suggestive looks before the movie ends with them sharing a hug and walking away from the camera.

Many critics gave the movie bad marks for this exact reason. Roger Ebert wrote in his review that “no great romantic chemistry is generated between the young lovers” and that it needed a screenplay, while Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times said, “They have so little chemistry together you’d think they’re putting out a fire instead of shooting off sparks.”

But there was actually supposed to be a kiss between Jet Li and Aaliyah

Aaliyah noted in a 2001 interview with Vibe that she and Li had filmed at least one love scene but suggested that Warner Bros. simply decided not to include it.

“I guess they thought it was a little sweeter and left more to the imagination,” she told the interviewer, who noted that the 16-year age difference between them may have also been a factor in the decision.

Jet Li and Aaliyah
Jet Li and Aaliyah at the ‘Romeo Must Die’ premiere | SGranitz/WireImage

Aaliyah Was Making Huge Plans for the Future Before Her Tragic Death

Meanwhile, the 2007 documentary Slanted Screen suggested there may have been a racial component to the decision not to include a kiss. According to The Washington Post, the film mentioned that the scene had been scrapped after it tested poorly with an “urban audience.”

“Mainstream America, for the most part, gets uncomfortable with seeing an Asian man portrayed in a sexual light,” said Gene Cajayon, a Filipino American who directed 2001’s The Debut.

But Li said in an old post on his website, “Actually it is not as complicated as people have been suggesting. It was not really a race issue, or a Hollywood issue. Rather, regarding the kiss that was supposed to happen between Han and Trish at that end scene, the truth was, we shot it both ways. One with the kiss, and one without the kiss but the hug instead.”

“Why did we finally decide not to use the kiss? Well, afterward the entire film was put together, with all the drama and tension in that last scene with Han’s father, we thought it might be somewhat strange and awkward for Han to have just witnessed Chou’s suicide, then to come out and kiss Trish. Thus it was decided that Han should take it slowly with Trish … do a hug first and maybe leading into a “real” relationship later,” Li continued. “So it was not really a decision by the powers that be to prevent an inter-racial relationship from happening on screen. It just did not feel right for that moment.”

So there you have it. Stream Romeo Must Die now on Netflix.