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'Romeo Must Die': On a hip-hop kick
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Moviegoers booed Jet Li when they were first introduced to his villainous character in "Lethal Weapon 4" (1998). Now they're rallying behind the martial arts champion in the new release "Romeo Must Die."
Joel Silver, who produced both movies, cast Li as the hero this time.
"He said, 'Here is the deal: Play the bad guy first, then I give you a good guy next,'" Li recalls. "I asked him what the movie was called, (and) he said 'Romeo Must Die.' (It) sounds like a romantic story, not an action movie."
"Romeo Must Die" is a mixture of martial arts and hip-hop that takes Shakespeare's classic tale of two warring families and star-crossed lovers, and flips it on its head.
Li plays Han Sing, the man bearing Romeo's star-crossed burden in this action film. His Juliet is Trish O'Day, played by R&B artist Aaliyah. Their love is a casualty of the feud between Chinese and African-American gangs vying for control of the waterfront in Oakland, California.
Fightin' words, moves
"Romeo Must Die" marks Aaliyah's feature film debut. She says she was immediately attracted to the headstrong character.
"She is tough, she is independent, she is edgy, she gets involved in the action," Aaliyah says. The singer-turned-actress even got a chance to get some kicks in her own fight scene, with Li's help.
"When I first met her," Li says, "she asked, 'Jet, can you teach me some martial and kung fu stuff. I want to fight in the movie."
Aaliyah insisted on no stunt doubles. "I wanted the audience to be like 'wow, she actually got up there and is kicking some butt,'" she says.
Most of the butt-kicking was choreographed by Corey Yuen, Li's long-time professional associate and fight coordinator. Li says their collaboration led to some innovative moves and scenes.
"We tried to do a lot of new things in the movie -- upside down, use martial arts with American football players, we used Aaliyah to fight another bad girl," he says.
Aaliyah says she was so impressed with Li's movies, she had to include him in a music video that accompanies one of her songs on the movie soundtrack.
"I saw Jet Li in 'Lethal Weapon 4' and went crazy," she says. "He is amazing. I want to put him in a video."
Love at first sight for the stars of "Romeo Must Die" has so far made for beautiful music at the box office as well. The film came in second at the box office in its debut weekend, and has grossed earnings to the tune of $24.6 million since its release March 22.
"Romeo Must Die" is a production of CNN Interactive sister company Warner Bros. a Time Warner property.
TIME: No Cooling This Jet
The Official Jet Li Web site
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