Rumble in the Bronx

on February 23, 1996 by Ray Greene
   It's easy to see why New Line Cinema selected "Rumble in the Bronx" for the latest attempt to break Asian action superstar Jackie Chan in the United States. Unlike the last two Chan films created with an American target audience in mind dismal stateside-made martial-arts quickies "The Protector" (1980) and "The Big Brawl" (1985) "Rumble" was produced by Chan's cronies at Golden Harvest, the Hong Kong unit responsible for virtually all of Chan's breakthrough Asian hits. Consequently, Jackie is shown off to better advantage than he was under U.S. directors, as evidenced by the fact that "Rumble" broke all-time boxoffice records all over Asia which were recently broken again by "Thunderbolt," Chan's follow-up feature.
   Location was probably also a factor in the decision to take "Rumble" to the American marketplace, since the set-up puts Jackie once again in the U.S. (well, North America, anyway; Canada doubles for the Bronx here, at times none too convincingly). The storyline is also a tried and true one for martial arts pics one with quite a few parallels to the last completed Bruce Lee film, 1973's "Return of the Dragon." In "Rumble," Jackie arrives for a visit in America (<script type="text/javascript" src="">in Lee's case, it was Rome), only to find his uncle's convenience store (in Lee's case, a Chinese restaurant) beset by street punks and gangsters. What's a guy to do? What Jackie Chan does like no one else in movie history, of course: kick butt and bust heads with the balletic grace of a latter-day cross between Buster Keaton and Fred Astaire (in Lee's case, ditto).
   Despite the apparent pragmatism of New Line's choice, "Rumble" is, in a sense, a giant step backward for Chan, whose best Hong Kong titles have provided some of the most mind-bending and fantastical action sequences ever filmed. Martial arts have always been part of Jackie's repertoire, but in recent times he has rarely relied on them so completely as he does here. Perhaps the thinking was that the American audience might appreciate the kind of fists-and-feet punchouts that characterized the Bruce Lee hits of the '70s; if so, it's something of a miscalculation, because Jackie's good-natured and comedic (if astonishing) fighting technique which includes such pragmatic tactics as running away when confronted by impossible odds couldn't be further removed from the Terminator-like persona created by Lee.
   That said, Chan is his usual amazing self onscreen, performing such undoubled and death-defying stunts as a building-to-building leap onto a small stairwell; jumps onto, under and between moving trucks; and a high-speed, ski-less water-skiing sequence that is a wonder to behold. The fistfights have the dextrous speed and amazing density of detail Chan's fans have come to expect of him, and here's a semi-comic chase scene involving a hovercraft at the film's climax which shows more wit and imagination than nine out of ten American actioners put together.
   The original Cantonese language version of "Rumble" has been re-dubbed and re-edited by New Line, so it would be unfair to comment on the supporting players who appear in the Hong Kong edition, except to speculate that English is clearly not director Stanley Tong's ("Supercop") first language, based on the line readings that occur whenever his actors try to speak American. In a supporting role as a sympathetic widow, the lovely and talented Anita Mui shows a flair for comedy that those who know her only from grim gangster epics like Tsui Hark's "A Better Tomorrow Part 3" might be surprised by (though Chan fans will remember her similar humorous turn in "Drunken Master II," one of Chan's all-time best features). As always, Mui is a delight.
   "Rumble in the Bronx" no doubt will have seen considerable technical improvement under New Line's retooling process, so a certain amount of reserved judgment is called for in discussing the Hong Kong version. But, warts and all, this is still a Jackie Chan action title, and a genuine must-see for the serious action aficionado who's curious to know more about that Chinese guy who won the Lifetime Achievement trophy at last year's MTV Movie Awards. And why he deserved it, kiddies, why he deserved it. Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui and BIll Tung. Directed by Stanley Tong. Written by Edward Tang and Fibe Ma. Produced by Barbie Tung. Cantonese-language version; not subtitled. Action. (New Line will release an edited, 87-minute, English-language version 1/12. Not yet rated.
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