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Should I Watch..? Rumble In The Bronx
What's the big deal?
Rumble In The Bronx is a martial-arts action comedy film released in 1995 and is the film responsible for bringing its star Jackie Chan to wider mainstream attention. Made for the market in Hong Kong, the film's success led to a limited release in the US which would lead Chan to appear in Hollywood films like Rush Hour (1). This film sees Chan play a cop from Hong Kong visiting relatives in New York and running afoul of biker gangs and diamond smugglers. Despite its limited release in America, the film would still earn more than $32 million in the US and cement Chan's place as the premier martial-arts film-star in the world. Much of the promotion focused on Chan's stunt work and his unique blend of improvised weapons usage and physical comedy is clearly on show in the film. The film did take its toll, leaving Chan with a badly injured ankle after a landing went wrong meaning that he finished the shoot with his right foot in a disguised cast. Other cast members also suffered injuries during the film after a motorbike stunt went wrong.
What's it about?
Ma Hon Keung is a Hong Kong-based cop visiting New York to attend the wedding of his Uncle Bill who currently owns a Chinese supermarket though he is trying to sell the business to Elaine. Later that night, a biker gang starts racing through the streets outside and threaten to rob the supermarket until Keung intervenes and stops them. Unfortunately, the gang later corner Keung in an alley and leave him bloodied and bruised.
One of the bikers, Angelo, has ambitions to move from petty crime into more serious stuff and arranges to transport some illegal diamonds for a local crime boss known as White Tiger. Stealing the diamonds, Angelo plunges his fellow bikers as well as Keung into conflict with the mobsters who are prepared to go to any lengths to get their merchandise back. Their only hope is to work together so Keung befriends Nancy, a model and dancer who can get Keung closer to the biker's leader Tony.
Ma Hon Keung
Tony, leader of the biker gang
Edward Tang & Fibe Ma
Release Date (UK)
4th July, 1997
Action, Comedy, Crime
What's to like?
Assume for a moment, if you will, that you have never seen or heard of Jackie Chan. Who is this man and why are people talking about him? Well, this film acts as the perfect introduction to Chan's intoxicating blend of physical comedy and death-defying stunt work. He leaps about the set like Daffy Duck, seemingly defying the laws of gravity and even common sense at times. Until you've seen him at work, it's impossible to describe how amazing he is to watch. And remember that he is younger here than he is in the Rush Hour series and more than any other of Chan's pre-Hollywood movies, he seems determined to break his way into Hollywood come hell or high water. Or hovercrafts.
The story is a load of tosh, obviously, but that doesn't really matter - nobody watches these films for things like characterisation or plot development. All that matters is the action although Chan does have another string to his bow as a physical comedian of sorts. He is ably supported with comic turns from leading ladies Yip and Mui (both of whom fall for Jackie, naturally) who actually generate some laughs along with Chan's antics and facial expressions. You almost get the impression that the whole thing is an audition from Chan to Hollywood studios - the entire film is showing off its leading man and he shines like he rarely has before.
- Chan wasn't the only actor to receive leg injuries. Director Tong sprained his ankle and completed his duties on crutches. Two stunt women broke their legs during the motorbike chase and Yip also broke her leg. Despite his injuries, Chan still attended the premier of The Legend Of Drunken Master (2) later that night.
- The film was actually shot in Vancouver instead of New York - no mountain ranges are visible from the Bronx. The production team had to put up fake graffiti and then take it down after shooting.
- The script called for a jump from the top of a parking lot to a fire escape on the building on the other side of the street. The landing point wasn't visible at the top and the director believed it would be safer to perform the stunt without a harness. Chan nailed the stunt on the first take, which was recorded by four cameras.
What's not to like?
I mentioned how the story shouldn't really matter in films like this but Rumble In The Bronx is typical of Chan's pre-stardom output. The screenwriter has the most thankless job on any Chan movie because the script is almost surplus to requirements at times. But a decent tale with interesting characters might have made this brilliant. Action will only ever get a film so far without context and to be honest, I had no idea what was going on during the film.
The non-Asian cast members feel like TV extras given lines of dialogue and the location of the shoot also gives the impression of being made on the cheap. Lastly, there is another issue with this film if one were to take it as Jackie Chan hammering on Hollywood's doors for attention. There are numerous films that he made earlier in his career which are equally as stunning as this - Police Story III: Super Cop (3) has some of the riskiest action scenes I've ever seen and is completely devoid of the Hollywood gloss and CG that normally occupy these films, plus it also has Michelle Yeoh thrown in for good measure. There isn't much difference between these two films - Rumble In The Bronx is slightly more comedic in nature but otherwise, they feel very similar indeed.
Should I watching it?
Rumble In The Bronx is not the greatest action movie ever made but it is the greatest audition tape ever made. Jackie Chan uses the film as a battering ram to break down the walls of Hollywood, finally helping him achieve his dream of superstardom. Far be it for me to rain on his parade - I enjoy a Chan film as much as the next guy, maybe even more so - but the film never really steps up and delivers a knock-out blow. It knows the moves but doesn't actually land a punch.
Great For: casting directors, Chan's career and reputation, martial-arts fans
Not So Great For: local hospitals, Bronx residents who wished their neighbourhood looked as clean as this
What else should I watch?
Chan has literally spent his life in movies having made his debut at the age of eight and rarely being off a set since. It would take time for him to achieve greatness, from his appearance as a prison thug in Enter The Dragon (4) to his acclaimed turn in the cult 1978 film Drunken Master (5). His first notable Hollywood appearance was actually in the Burt Reynolds comedy The Cannonball Run (6) as Chan's attempts to break into Hollywood continued to flop until the release of this film.
Once Rush Hour had made Chan a star, there would be no stopping him. Along with two sequels to Rush Hour, he would also appear in comedic western Shanghai Noon (7) and its follow-up and action-comedy The Tuxedo (8). As well as appearing in countless movies made in the east as well as his Hollywood career, Chan shows no signs of slowing down just yet with forthcoming actioner The Foreigner (9) due for release in the near future.
© 2017 Benjamin Cox