I cannot overstate the impact of being an impressionable 5th grader in 1996, back when egomaniac stars like Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme were on there way out and all of a sudden this "newcomer" named Jackie Chan appeared on the action movie scene with a simple philosophy: no fear, no stuntmen, no equal. Although I had to wait a few years for his first PG-13 rating ("First Strike") before I could actually watch one of his movies, all it took was the initial trailer for "Rumble in the Bronx" to solidify my intense hero worship of Jackie Chan.
Jackie Chan: have fist, will travel
Although his career has seen many ups and downs since then - with the downs coming largely from Hollywood drivel like "The Spy Next Door" - my loyalty is mostly intact. Jackie has a rare kind of screen presence that only comes along once every so many years. Unlike the Vin Diesals of the world, Jackie is an artist - not just a martial artist or action star. Now don't think I'm a hater, because I do enjoy a good Van Damme or Seagal flick every now in then, but I'd honestly compare Jackie to Fred Astaire or Buster Keaton before I'd liken him to any of his action movie star contemporaries.
His comic timing, intensely thought-out fight choreography, and daredevil stunts are basically unparalleled in cinema. And "Rumble in the Bronx" is the movie that truly introduced Jackie to America, even though he'd tried before, and it's always the movie I use as a gateway drug for friends looking to get into Chan's filmography.
You know the drill: Jackie Chan is the nicest guy...
but everybody wants to fuck with him!
Granted, "Rumble in the Bronx" isn't perfect. It was edited by a whopping 17 minutes and dubbed for American audiences by Dimension Films before being released in American cinemas. To this day, I still haven't seen the movie in its uncut form, but I've made a promise to myself that the next time I watch Jackie's 90's output I will do so in their original Cantonese language, no matter how hard it is to track down copies of them. For "Rumble," Jackie dubbed his own voice as he always does, which makes the movie far more watchable, but be warned that the rest of the actors sound like cartoon characters most of the time.
The plot is remarkably simple - or at least until some diamond thieves are brought in at the end - but I'd argue that works in the movie's favor. Jackie shows up to the Bronx for his uncle's wedding and sticks around to help manage his uncle's grocery store while the newlyweds are on their honeymoon. Thing is, the store soon becomes a target for a roving band of street thugs who love to shoplift and dress like they're out of a "Mad Max" movie.
Do you know what they sell at this grocery store? Yup, a half a loaf of kung-fu.
Most importantly, the plot serves as a simple vehicle for Jackie to show off his incredible fighting moves in several setpieces, the highlight of which might be the showdown in the gang's hideout where Jackie narrowly misses being crushed by some pinball machines. Combine that with a bravado leap onto a fire escape earlier in the film and Jackie skiing in street clothes with no actual skis, and you've got one visually spectacular movie.
Jackie was also one of the only action stars in the 90's who actually *got hurt*. Rewatch all those Seagal movies and you'll see that nobody ever lands a punch on him. Jackie tends to dominate his opponents in hand-to-hand combat but still - when he falls onto the roof of a car or gets a rearview mirror smashed across his chest, he doesn't hide the fact that it hurts like hell. He gets tired, exhausted, and fed up.
There's a scene in this movie that I like to call "The Passion of Jackie Chan," where the street gang corners him and tosses glass bottles at him over and over, until his clothes are torn to shreds and he's covered in blood. It's so damn intense and I dare say you would NEVER see an American action star allow himself to become this wounded in a film!
Arcades in the 90's where the scene of so much violence!
What hurts the film is that it doesn't end with a intense fight or a jaw-dropping stunt, but instead a wacky extended sequence involving a hovercraft. Instead of getting up close and personal with the baddies, he runs them over...with a giant, runaway hovercraft. It's entertaining, I suppose, but it's also a little silly and doesn't really have the same impact as the rest of the movie. I don't know why but Jackie frequently seemed to do this throughout the 90's: in "Mr. Nice Guy," for instance, he finishes the film by driving a giant bulldozer through the villain's mansion.
And in "First Strike," he drives a car onto the bad guy's boat (literally) - but at least that came after an underwater fight sequence. Perhaps Jackie realized that after the showstopping finale to "Police Story," he was running out of ways to top himself with fight scenes so he opted for ridiculous stunts instead. Unfortunately, it kind of hurt the climaxes of several of his films.
Feel free to come up with your own sound FX for this picture! Wah-tahhh!
And I think it was a mistake for Jackie to cast Anita Mui as the stuck-up, bookish-type who runs the grocery store and not as his love interest. Anita Mui was a massively famous pop star and actress in Hong Kong - martial arts fans will no doubt recognize her from movies like "The Heroic Trio" and "Drunken Master 2" - until her untimely death from cancer. She's definitely a more talented actress than Francoise Yip, who plays a horribly cliche character. You know, the bad girl with a heart of gold; this time it's an exotic dancer who hangs out with vicious and violent street thugs even though she really just wants the best for her little brother (gimme a break). As usual, she's way too young for Jackie - but that's pretty much always how he casts 'em.
With 17 minutes chopped out of the film, the storyline does suffer. It feels like a lot of Anita Mui's role was cut (she inexplicably changes hairstyles towards the end of the movie) and viewers might do a double take when all of a sudden Jackie gets chummy with the thugs who, just moments ago, wanted to break his neck. Unfortunately, we kind of just have to put up with this until Warner Brothers loses the license to this film and someone can put out a better DVD/blu-ray with the original Cantonese language track.
Jackie Chan is always there to prevent crimes against fashion
Regardless - "Rumble in the Bronx" is one of the few Jackie Chan movies I can whole-heartedly recommend as an introduction to Chan's work and just a solid movie all-around for martial arts enthusiasts. This is one of those flicks that I can revisit every 3 years or so and I have a grin on my face the entire time. 4 stars for a living legend.