Star-crossed lovers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2006, 12:00am

Job description: Long before William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, writers and theatre directors drew inspiration from stories about great love separated by an almost unbridgeable chasm. Filmmakers go to great (and wacky) lengths to conjure new ways to separate their star-crossed lovers.

Recently seen in: Instead of Montagues and Capulets, in Shinobi we have two clans of ninjas feuding in the mountains of Japan. In Ten Shimoyama's fast-paced film, which already has a cult following, Yukie Nakama's Oboro and Joe Odagiri's Gennosuke are lovers separated by ancient hatreds.

Most likely to say: 'But sharp! What shuriken through yonder window flies?'

Classics of the genre: Jerome Robbins' unforgettable West Side Story (1961) sets Romeo and Juliet to a toe-tapping score, with Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as Maria and Tony. Len Wiseman's Underworld (2003) and recent sequel, Underworld Evolution, put a bloody spin on things, with a love story between a vampire (Kate Beckinsale) and a werewolf (Scott Speedman), set against the backdrop of a gory battle between the two races.

Out of the mainstream is the recent Love + Hate by London-based filmmaker Dominic Savage, with Samina Awan and Thomas Hudson as star-crossed lovers Naseema, a teenage Muslim shop assistant, and Adam, a soft-hearted bigot. Or for something out there, try Brooklyn Babylon (2001), Marc Levin's bizarre take on thwarted love, featuring a hip-hop Romeo and a Hasidic Juliet in Brooklyn.

Or, how about a scarcely veiled homoerotic adventure between a goat and a wolf? In Gisaburo Sugii's latest anime offering, Stormy Night (Arashi No Yoru Ni), the enemies develop a deep, secret friendship, then plunge into the unknown.

Ultimate avatar: I admit it's not the greatest film ever made, and it's at least an hour too long, but for the sheer chutzpah behind the conceit of making death one of the protagonists in a love story - and thus creating the greatest divide of all - avatar status goes to Meet Joe Black (1998). Brad Pitt is Joe Black, or Death, Claire Forlani is the babe who falls for him, and Anthony Hopkins is her dying millionaire father trying to come to terms with the great hereafter. Director Martin Brest gets a tad carried away - as many critics noted, a great 90-minute movie was struggling to get out from under this bloated, three-hour metaphysical meditation.

Not to be confused with: Across the Great Divide, Brokeback Mountain.