Review: Rush Hour (1998)


Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tzi Ma, Elizabeth Pena, Tom Wilkinson

Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan

Directed by Brett Ratner

After having success with Rumble in the Bronx in the United States, Jackie started releasing dubbed versions of his Hong Kong films with some success, but not reaching any sort of blockbuster status. After speaking with a small-time filmmaker more known for his music videos than by anything else, and teaming up with an African-American seen by many as a new Eddie Murphy, Jackie Chan scored his first major blockbuster in the USA…

The film opens with Inspector Lee (Chan) on the trail of Juntao, and mysterious underworld criminal in Hong Kong who specializes in stealing priceless chinese artifacts. Lee boards his boat but only finds various henchmen and Juntao’s right hand man, Sang, who escapes. Out of this entire film, this part feels the most like a Jackie Chan film. There are the stunts we love, and some inventive fight scenes, but even here they are far too short. Lee is able to recover the stolen artifacts, and notifies his friend Consular Han, who is leaving with his daughter to the United States now that Hong Kong is transitioning back to China. Lee also bears farewell to Soo Yung, Han’s little daughter and Lee’s protegé and god-daughter.

We fast forward a few months to Los Angeles, where we meet Detective Carter, a loudmouth cop who gets a suspect’s car blown up in the middle of Los Angeles in the open street after firing round after round into the trunk of the car he knows has C4 explosives, and afterward does a Michael Jackson-style dance and runs off, which tells you that a) he’s unstable and b) kinda stupid. Meanwhile, Soo Yung is being driven to school when her bodyguards are killed during a traffic stop, and Soo Yung is kidnapped, and this turn of events brings Lee to Los Angeles, and teamed up with Carter, together must find Soo Yung and stop the nefarious plans of Juntao…

This is a fun film, if you are willing to check your brain–and common sense– at the door. Jackie does a great job of portraying Lee, but is really the straight man to Chris Tucker in many respects. Jackie has a few good scenes, like the pool hall fight, and the setup is a great fish out of water joke, and during the last fight, where Lee has to protect a large vase from being tipped over by two thugs. The fights are far too small, but does allow Jackie to be inventive in his fights. Chris Tucker can be funny and grating at the same time, with his high-pitched voice. In truth the film seems to want to really push Chris Tucker out there rather than make a Jackie Chan film. I know it’s a buddy film, and they do have good chemistry in this, but c’mon! This should be a Jackie Chan film. It’s easy to see the agenda at work here.

One other problem I have it that there is no real martial arts threat for Lee to face. All of the thugs don’t seem to know any martial arts except for Ken Lo, yes, the great Ken Lo from Drunken Master 2, who gets jack shit to do here except throw a punch or kick. I take it Ratner never saw Drunken Master 2, which might explain his comments regarding fight scenes. Let’s get into that a second…

There is something that Ratner has said many times that I take personal offense to, and that his assertion is that western audiences don’t want to see a 5 or 10 minute fight scene, that no fight should be longer than a minute or two. I would say that if it were a shitty fight scene, yes. But a Jackie Chan fight scene? Is he kidding? We could watch an hour of it–which is primarily why we go to see his films. The quality of the fight scenes are what makes them great, but we need time to take them all in, since the fights in a martial arts film helps drive the story, not stop it like in so many American action films (not all, but most). For such a martial arts film fan, Ratner should know this. Unfortunately he’s not the only director who believes this, not to mention he lifted whole scenes from Jackie Chan’s Police Story (he actually admits the kidnapping scene is a direct homage (let’s be honest, a ripoff) of the scene where the bad guys try to kidnap Bridgette Lin.

The movie is a fun rollercoaster ride, but if you are looking for a good martial arts film, you may want to look elsewhere.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) It almost feels like blasphemy to give a Jackie Chan film this low a score, but in retrospect this isn’t really a Jackie Chan film, is it? The fights are okay, but far too short to allow Jackie to do what he does best.

STUNTWORK: (5) Average stuff, even for Jackie. Lots of Blue screen. Thanks, USA insurance companies for neutering Chan and his crew.

STAR POWER (7) Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Tucker would go on to make…Rush Hour 2 and…wait for it…Rush Hour 3. That’s as far as his star goes, and may ever go.

FINAL GRADE: (6) Jackie finally scores a western blockbuster with Rush Hour, but isn’t allowed to be himself, and so I dont’ think you can look at this as a “Jackie Chan film”. It’s a good action comedy, but if you are expecting good martial arts fight scenes, you may want to look elsewhere.

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8 Responses to “Review: Rush Hour (1998)”

  1. Other than the pool-hall scene, and introducing the US to Tom Wilkinson, this was very average. I personally much prefered Shanghai Noon and its sequel. Owen Wilson made a much better and funnier partner to Chan.

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    • MikeOutWest I also much preferred Shanghai Noon and its sequel (although I much prefer Jackie’s Hong Kong stuff). Owen Wilson was a better co-star – he is genuinely funny but doesn’t have that irritating thing of appearing to try to hog the audience’s attention like Chris Rock does. And since when was Jackie anybody’s straight man? (Well… since he started going in american films, that’s when).

      Kiai-Kick Mike:
      “The movie is a fun rollercoaster ride, but if you are looking for a good martial arts film, you may want to look elsewhere.” Good distinction and an excellent review overall.

      I am sick and tired of seeing Ratner interviewed as if he’s some kind of martial arts movie afficianado (he’s even on the special features of my Tai Chi Master for God’s sake). Ratner, and too many other western directors, are operating at martial arts film making 101 level and I wish they would just admit to that. The stance he takes is ridiculous when the internet is clogged with so many fans who obviously know so much more, and have more insight into, kung fu movies than he does.

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  2. Ratner is a hack who plays at being a fan of martial arts films, and he shows, especially in Rush Hour 3 how inept he is. You have Jackie Chan fight one of the best onscreen Japanese swordsmen (Hiroyuki Sanada) living today, and he delivers a final fight as weak as that? With MTV style editing that’s even worse than anything that came from Andrej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die). I have a deep hate for the 3rd film, and Ratner in general. You’ll know just how much soon.

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    • Much as I love Jackie I didn’t even bother with Rush Hour 3. I suspect it would just make me cross. My time is better spent re-watching a DVD of one of Jackie’s Hong Kong movies.

      “With MTV style editing that’s even worse than anything that came from Andrej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die).”
      That’s really saying something. Romeo Must Die was a silly movie and the editing is one of the things that made it so. Will get around to ditzing on Romeo in a blog sometime in the future.

      “I have a deep hate for the 3rd film, and Ratner in general. You’ll know just how much soon.”
      Excellent. Bring it.

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  3. Bratner’s meant to be a martial arts film fan? Really? it certainly doesn’t show! I’ve got no problem with short, punchy, realistic fight scenes (some good examples can be found in Angel of Death, starring Zoe Bell), but that’s not what you hire Jackie Chan or Jet Li for. We want to see fight scenes that are performed and choreographed, not constructed in the editing room. The Mummy 3 is another example of wasted talent – Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh fight each other, but it’s just a series of move/countermove edited together ad infinitum. Even worse? Wu Jing wasted as nameless ninja #1 in the prologue!

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  4. […] this may be somewhat of a mini-rant I promised back in my review from Rush Hour, but what the hey. This movie is the anti-Rush Hour for so many reasons. For one, this is an actual […]

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  5. […] NEXT:  Get ready for Rush Hour! […]

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