Should I Watch..? Rush Hour
What's the big deal?
Rush Hour is an action comedy thriller film released in 1998 and is the first to feature Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in the roles of Detective Carter and Inspector Lee, respectively. Directed by Brett Ratner in only his third feature film as director, the film sees Tucker's loud-mouthed detective paired up with Chan's martial-arts expert to help locate the kidnapped daughter of the Chinese consulate. The film was a surprise hit with critics and audiences alike, taking over $240 million at the box office and spawning two sequels in 2001 and 2007 with a fourth currently in development. The cast also includes Tzi Ma, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Penn, Elizabeth Peña and Ken Leung.
What's it about?
Failing to apprehend Chinese gangster Juntao in Hong Kong on the last day of British rule, Consul Solon Han arrives in Los Angeles to begin his new diplomatic post. But shortly after arriving, his daughter Soo Yung, is kidnapped and held for ransom by Juntao's right-hand-man Sang. With the FBI following leads, Han invites Detective Inspector Lee over to conduct his own investigation. The FBI, disapproving of this move, arrange a baby-sitting escort to collect Lee at the airport and keep him away from the investigation. Step forward loud-mouthed and arrogant LAPD Detective Carter.
Realising that he's been set up, Carter begins his own investigation whilst trying to take Lee on a sight-seeing tour. However, Lee is a hard man to keep down for long and eventually, the pair realise that Juntao himself is in LA and the case is about more than a simple kidnapping. Can this mismatched couple bring Juntao to justice and rescue Soo Yung, despite the difference in language, styles and musical tastes?
Detective Inspector Lee
Det. James Carter
Consul Solon Han
Det. Tania Johnson
Jim Kouf & Ross LaManna *
Release Date (UK)
4th December, 1998
Action, Comedy, Thriller
What's to like?
There are no shortage of buddy-cop movies out there but rarely is one made with such panache. Rush Hour is a joyous blend of Tucker's obnoxious loudmouth and Chan's amazing physical abilities and nothing more - there's no pretension that this is anything else but disposable, formulaic stuff. But the film is more than the sum of its parts - this isn't your usual takeaway curry on a Saturday night but a full-on Vindaloo prepared by Heston Blumenthal. Chan's work is still glorious to watch and there are times when this film feels like a highlights reel as he leaps, spins and kicks his way through the film like Buster Keaton after several cans of Stella Artois. But Tucker does well to avoid going all-Eddie Murphy on us and provides plenty of genuine laughs, just about reining in the more repulsive aspects of his character.
The pair of them are ably supported by the action which is suitably over-the-top and the other actors who sometime maintain a straight face amid the chaos. Leung's ever-calm henchman is the perfect foil for Chan & Tucker while few actors can do urbane English gent as well as Wilkinson. But the film's real ace is sat in the director's chair - despite his relative inexperience, Ratner displays a confident and aggressive style in his direction which maintains the film's breakneck pace and doesn't allow the audience much chance to analyse the plot too much.
- According to Ratner, this marks the first English-language performance of Chan's career. Normally, he is dubbed into English but Ratner convinced Chan to speak in his uncertain English because it fitted the character better.
- Tucker improvised much of his dialogue, as he ususally does. In the scene with John Hawkes, there was so much improvisation that Ratner wasn't sure it could be edited together coherently.
- The exterior shots of the Chinese consulate building is actually the outside of Stately Wayne Manor as seen in the 1960's Batman TV series.
What's not to like?
When I say that Rush Hour is derivative, I mean it's almost as though the film's ideas, script, soundtrack and set pieces are composed of cut scenes and cast offs from other films. Its closest relation is probably Beverly Hills Cop which was funnier with the aforementioned Eddie Murphy in the form of his life. But its action scenes cannot compare to Chan's wily antics and frankly, I'd rather watch Chan than Judge Reinhold any day of the week. Who wouldn't?
Chan veterans might also suffer a bit of déjà vu - his style is very recognisable but hardcore fans of his might recognise certain sequences from other films of his. Lastly, I felt the title was a bit misleading - the film has nothing to do with traffic and it certainly never stands still long enough for your mind to wander. It's the cinematic equivalent of a tequila slammer - it's not very smart and doesn't do you much good but it doesn't stop you enjoying several on a good night out.
Should I watch it?
Rush Hour is perfect for a night in - even my wife likes this movie! It's funny enough and thrilling enough to justify a showing on any night of the week but crucially, it knows that its formulaic and undemanding and that's fine. Sometimes, you want undemanding! Chan and Tucker work so well together that it's no surprise they were brought back for sequels but so far, none of them have matched the original's sense of excitement, humour and style. Good work all round!
Great For: action lovers, nights in, couples
Not So Great For: children, Tucker's detractors
What else should I watch?
Rush Hour 2 offers more of the same but instead of LA, the action moves back to Hong Kong. This has the unfortunate result of making Tucker look and behave like an idiotic tourist shouting at the locals who don't understand him. Rush Hour 3 offers even more of the same but for reasons I can't recall, the action moves to Paris instead. Both are solid, reliable action comedies but neither quite hit the heights of this first one.
All three films owe a debt of gratitude to similarly stylish cop comedies like Beverly Hills Cop and Bad Boys. All of them have an excessive amount of action (along with excessive amounts of damage) and a highly stylish vibe to them to off-set the normally dull world of real-life policing. You never see anyone filling out health and safety forms in one of these films, do you?
© 2015 Benjamin Cox