We all love Jackie Chan. Well, more specifically, we all love “Jackie Chan Movies,” which is somewhat of a genre unto itself; a weird hybrid of action comedies, driven by death defying stunts. Sure, Jackie is pretty great in “Jackie Chan Movies,” in fact, you could say that’s what makes it easier to forgive the almost incoherent plots of a lot of them, but all the charm in the world couldn’t replace the pure joy, the adrenaline producing exhilaration that one feels while watching someone do something that could potentially end their life. He definitely has some of that “movie star charisma” going for him, but, man, that guy can take a kick to the face like nobody’s business.
Over the past week, or so, I’ve been revisiting a lot of Chan’s work – I’m kinda, sorta watching them in order of release – and this afternoon I re-watched Rumble in the Bronx for the first time in ages. Even though I hadn’t seen the flick in probably 15 years(Yeah, I’m old enough to say that. It’s not right, god dammit!), I was surprised by how much I both remembered and forgotten.
It’s a really scatterbrain flick, that at times feels like 4 different movies all crammed together. It’s about about a small grocery store dealing with being in a tough neighborhood; it’s about a gang of violent wannabe thugs hassling anyone one who crosses them on their turf; it’s about a cripple kid and his older sister trying to survive; it’s a about some mob/crime syndicate that’s trying to get their diamonds back, while being chased by the police. Yeah, it get’s into all that stuff within it’s 90 minute running time. The most surprising thing about it is that nothing ever really gets lost, and you’re never confused about what’s going on.well, up until the last 20 minutes, which is really just an extended stunt sequence. Yeah, a lot of the story elements are super under cooked, only giving the audience the least amount of information – while still being somewhat coherent – as possible, but you can still follow all the strands to their conclusion. However dopey those conclusions may be.
I had completely forgotten about a good amount of the various sub-plots that are in the movie. Instead my memory banks only kept the bare essentials. I remembered, in great detail, almost all of the major action scenes, but had forgotten almost all of the connecting material. I vaguely remembered the bits about the gang and the store, but everything dealing with the police and the mob diamonds was nowhere to be found. It was almost as if I had maintained my ideal cut of the movie in my brain for all these years.
The story is so needlessly complicated that it just kind of baffled me. Almost none of it matters, so it’s puzzling why it was included in the first place. I mean, unless there’s some 3 hour long, epic cut of this thing, of course(Rumble in the Bronx: The Peter Jackson Cut). You could conceivably make a really tight short film out of this thing, because a lot of the pieces feel so disparate that if they were excised I’m not sure anyone would notice.
Hypothetically, it would have been a really easy script to fix. Just focus on the family owned store, and a bothersome gang. That’s it. That’s all the story needed. The only reason that I can think of as to why they would add the mob twists in the second half would be to justify some of the stunt/action scenes. Like they were afraid that audiences would feel they were out of place and too extravagant for lowly street thugs to pull off. Like, it would be totally inconceivable that the street gang could have gotten a hold of that hovercraft thing at the end of the movie. Like, we wouldn’t have just accepted that that could a possibility. “What? That’s ridiculous. You really had me for awhile, but this is just a step too far.” is something you might imagine you would say(Good thing I imagined it for you! Because you seem kind of… dumb).
They could have actually told a story that might have even carried some weight, as Jackie tries to save his families store, and save this young woman and her little brother from getting caught in some type of cycle of violence. Instead, what they opted to do was have Jackie earn their respect, and become best buds with them, which wouldn’t be that weird if it didn’t come 15 minutes after they had violently brutalized him.
At some point, pretty early in the film actually, Jackie falls victim to a street gang rouse, and is trapped in a dead end alley. While there the gang takes turns throwing glass bottles at him until he is left broken and bleeding on the cold concrete, probably laying in bum piss. In an otherwise pretty silly movie, the scene is kind of brutal and overly dark. Yeah, the movie has some problems with tone, but this scene takes it to the next level. The movie that follows this event makes zero sense. Shouldn’t this send Jackie on the warpath? I mean, if they did this to him, it wouldn’t be crazy to think that they probably do this kind of thing on the regular. They are all real casual about the whole thing. So, when he forms some weird alliance with them after he kicks their asses, it comes of as strange. It’s not an earned turn, and it could have been, had they had done away with some of their useless plot machinations. Everybody could have learned a lesson about the futility of violence and the importance of supporting one’s community, especially in poorer areas. IT WOULD HAVE AT LEAST MADE SENSE…
Having said all that, do we really care about the story in one of these pictures? Is that what we’re watching for? No. Let’s be honest here, we want to see some bad ass fight choreography and some cool stunts(Some cool ass stunts, you trifling flamingo!). Sure, a decent narrative would be nice, and movies of this ilk have started to pick up the slack on this end over the past five years or so, but it’s not a requirement.
Jackie Chan’s work in the eighties and nineties continued a movie martial arts tradition. He, and his stunt team, worked to constantly defy expectations of what was possible. Well, either that or started a trend that would ostensibly mutate itself into Jackass, eventually. As much as we all love a well choreographed fight scene, we love seeing people put themselves in dangerous situations. The thrills don’t come from the concept of the stunts, but the sheer audacity of a person actually doing them. Honestly, what’s really “cool,” or “impressive” about someone jumping from a rooftop to a balcony? Not much, really, but like I said, the act of doing it cancels out the mundane nature of the the thing. And then there’s that blooper type reel, which played during the credits, a staple of “Jackie Chan Movies.”
The importance of the blooper reels in these movies can’t really be overstated. In fact, I’d say they were among the most important elements of the movies. They were something everybody was trained to look foreword to, and were kind of just as important as any of the completed stunts, or fights, themselves. Not only that, though, they also reminded the audience of the stakes. Those were real people, taking real hits, jumping off of real high stuff, hanging off of real vehicles, doing real stupid shit(“Do you see?!). So, when you’d watch the movie again, or show it to a friend, you could lean in and say “Hey, he really did that, you know…” or something else to that effect; it would make you feel super smart. Hell, half of the time during your first viewing would be spent trying to pick out when an actual stunt took place, almost as if you were playing a game with the movie. Some type of medieval Where’s Waldo, in which instead of looking for those red and white identifiers, you’d spend your time looking for an over sized foot, as it would indicate that Jackie was in a cast by the time they got to the end of filming the scene. “Haha, got you, injured Chan!”
By modern standards, the fight choreography could be describe as “quaint.” There’s no one man versus forty fights on display in these flicks. Well, that’s not to say that Jackie’s characters aren’t asked to overcome overwhelming odds, but, in general, it’s less about him actually fighting and more about him creatively using his environment to make an escape. For instance, the biggest fight sequence in RitB starts out with Jackie going to the warehouse-like hideout of the street thugs to challenge them to a fights, the thing is, they only really fight for the about half of the sequence. Jackie spends most of it trying to get away. Yeah, he’s got to kick a couple of fools in the face while making his escape, but the most memorable moments of the whole affair come while he’s trying to flee. It made me think about other “Jackie Chan movies,” and how that a lot of times this was also true.I guess you could say that him having to run away so much makes it all a little more realistic, as it acknowledges the human limitations at play.
Even though a lot of the sequences don’t have a ton of actual fighting, and are small scale by today’s standards, they still manage to be exciting. I was thinking they might not, as I’ve become so acclimated to the stylings of movies like The Raid and the large shadow of influence those movies have had on the action genre as a whole. But much to my pleasant surprise, this was not the case, and that has to do with how sequences like this are constructed. The two different “eras” have much more in common than differences.
In my opinion, a good action sequence should work like it’s own little short film. It should almost be able to be viewed in a vacuum and still make sense. Exposition laden dialogue is replaced by glowering looks, and kick-punch combos. They should tell their own little stories, with their own little arcs, with their own call-back moments. A well scripted fight scene can pack just as much storytelling into it as a well scripted scene of dialogue. I name dropped the The Raid before because those flicks kind of do it the best. Hell, maybe the best they’ve ever been done. Every movement in those scenes is imbued with a sense of purpose and intention. Having said that, most of the scenes of this type in RitB pull this all off pretty well. You could take anyone of the fight/stunt sequences and derive just as much enjoyment out of it out of context as in. They’re just well constructed, from a nuts and bolts perspective, and no amount of narrative tomfoolery is going to change that.
RithB was the movie that really introduced Jackie Chan to a broad western audience. In fact, it was made as a vehicle to do just that. It took a niche genre and turned it into a phenomenon; it spawned not only Chan’s career as a western movie star, but also I mean, yeah, I was watching “Jackie Chan movies” before RitB, but that’s just because I used to be “the coolest,” but other folks weren’t so fortunate. I would assume that was due to them being “the lamest.” Hey, it’s science, folks, I didn’t make up the rules in some arbitrary fashion to prove my non-point. It’s just the way it is.
If you think about the western action movie landscape in the mid-nineties, you’ll see a lot of similarities. They often had to do with urban crime, and dealt with some form of class rebellion, but what makes RitB special is all the circumstances that surrounded how it was made. This movie has such a weird and unique production. It’s a movie made by people from China, they shot for Brooklyn in Canada, and was specifically designed to cater to our sensibilities. So what we got was a really, at times, unintentionally humorous take on what urban life in America was like. I’m not trying to take the piss out of the movie or anything, but I think the movie speaks for itself.
Brooklyn, through the prism of this production, is simultaneously cartoonish and realistic. It can feel jarring at times, as it whips between a visage of the gritty city streets, and a pastel wearing biker gang, straight out of central casting for something like The Warriors. I know that most “Jackie Chan movies” could broadly be labeled as action-adventure comedies, but generally it’s really obvious what’s supposed to be a joke and what is supposed to be taken seriously.
RitB blurs the lines, and it quickly becomes hard to tell what it is exactly that I’m supposed to be taking away from the movie. It feels like straight satire at times, but the tonal inconsistencies point to this not being the case, and it mostly lies at the feet of the street gang. Sometimes they’re supposed to be super silly, as they hoot and holler and carry on, but then moments later they’re supposed to be a real, credible threat. We’re supposed to feel like Jackie is in actual danger whenever he comes across these dudes and dudettes, but it never really passes the smell test, if you know what I’m saying. The only time they’re even vaguely threatening is when they come at him in a large group, and even then it sometimes falls into plot contrivance, as in one scene they easily overtake him and then a few moments later he easily dispatches about a dozen of them.
I think it’s all just indicative of what the purpose of the film was. It wasn’t made with the aim to “just make a good movie,” but rather to “just make a good showcase.” It was almost more like a proof of concept, than an actual well constructed story/experience. It aimed to show western audiences a world they were familiar with, and hit all the kind of action beats that would normally be found in a “Jackie Chan movie.” Then we were supposed to just gobble it all up, and, if history is any indicator, we kind of did. I don’t think I need to really remind anybody how famous Jackie Chan was in the late nineties and early aughts, but just in case you don’t know, he was kind of a big deal. Like, he was friends with Chris Tucker.
RitB is an interesting time capsule, and an example of how other cultures view our sensibilities as an audience. It’s normal for us to see other countries get pandered to in our pop culture, and for our pop culture to pander to the worst of ourselves, so it’s interesting to see how they see us. It’s pretty much how we see them, as a collection of stereotypes, and guess what? It’s kinda weird, and kind of funny.
Even if you haven’t seen this movie in awhile, it’s difficult to give it a hard recommend. I have to say, even though it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a “Jackie Chan movie,” with a tone that’s all over the place, it’s surprisingly watchable. I mean, I was never actively annoyed while I was watching it, or anything. So, while that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, if you’re into some modern schlock, I’d say give it a go.