Rumble in the Bronx Comes to Video
by Grant Tracey

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How does the American version compare to the Asian version of Rumble in the Bronx?

Jackie Chan's most death-defying stunt in Rumble in the Bronx involves a forty-foot drop from a parking garage to the balcony of an adjoining building. As Chan arches his jump, director Stanley Tong uses four cameras to let us see the moment three times. These over-lapping edits highlight the spectacle and as Chan nails the landing, one of the bad guys shouts, "I can't believe this guy." Nor can we.

Jackie and his cohorts whoop it up at the movie's conclusion.

Chan is his own special effect and that's why we crave his films. He is pure spectacle. Plot and characterization aren't as important in a Chan film as is watching Jackie's body, bouncing, spinning across cars, slithering through a shopping cart, or throwing a series of rapid punches. And a major attraction to Rumble in the Bronx are the wonderfully choreographed fight scenes.

One highlight is a beautifully choreographed fight in an abandoned warehouse.

Jackie in action against a biker gang.

"You're all garbage," Chan shouts at the bad guys and then uses fridge and freezer doors, televisions and pinball games to dodge, duck and frustrate his opponents. And forget Bruce Lee and those nunchuks. Chan brilliantly uses a ski to debilitate a bunch of baddies! It is this kind of comic inventiveness and spectacle that have many comparing Chan's choreography to Buster Keaton.

Chan himself has credited Keaton as being one of the biggest influences on his career. In the early 1980s, Chan watched a bunch of Keaton's films and decided to incorporate Keaton's humor into his own death-defying stunts. This change made Chan a Hong Kong star and helped him project the image of the lovably resilient little guy. Now following the debut of Rumble in the Bronx, Chan is finally making it big in America.

Jackie gets an impromptu water skiing lesson on the Hudson River.

Rumble in the Bronx's indebtedness to Keaton can be glimpsed in the body-surfing scene. Chan gets his foot caught up in a tow-line, falls into the Hudson, and then water-skis behind a hovercraft. In College, Keaton did a similar bit with a regatta boat.

Plotwise, Rumble in the Bronx is somewhat cartoonish and backs off from tackling serious issues that it initially raises, such as the problems of teenage gangs. Chan brings Nancy (Francoise Yip) all too easily around to his way with a rather glib appeal to family values: "Don't hang around with those guys. Spend more time with Danny [her brother]. He needs you." And Tony's badass gang crosses over to good after Chan kicks their butts and suggests next time let's not fight but drink tea. Please.

Moreover, I don't think Rumble in the Bronx is as exciting as some of Chan's Hong Kong films, especially Police Story (1985). This earlier film has a darker edge as the framed and deranged cop, Chan, goes undercover to crush the drug czars. The film also has several attractive bits: Chan hitching a ride to a bus with an umbrella; Chan fighting a motorcycle in a mall; and an opening sequence in which Chan chases drug lords through a shanty town, racing his car down hill and blowing through buildings. It takes Rumble in the Bronx twenty minutes to get going with two-fisted action. We don't need that much exposition.

But Rumble in the Bronx is a good, attractive film. It grossed over $10 million for its weekend debut, and Chan's appeal to the kids in the theater--they were all jumping up and down in the aisles, throwing punches and snapping back roundhouses--has a lot to do with what we want our action stars to be. With Chan, we're getting, the publicity posters suggest, the authentic action hero: "No Fear. No Stuntman. No Equal."

Everything Chan does contains danger and wonder. "I'm crazy, but I'm not too crazy," he says and it's that craziness and his desire to please that draws us in--how's he going to top the stunts in his previous film? We love Rumble in the Bronx's outtakes (played during the final credits) because they document the danger: Chan's broken ankle, the hurt stuntmen, the ambulances. We also love the outtakes because along with authenticating Chan, they also make danger fun. Chan, with his foot in a plaster cast, mugs for the camera. And after clearing the parking-garage jump, he smiles and shakes his tush.

The ebullient Chan once said that in America they make special effects films (Bruce Willis doing a Die Hard stunt in front of a blue screen). Chan makes action films. No blue screens. Just a forty foot drop.

Rumble in the Bronx is available on video and laser disc from New Line Home Video.

Photo Credits: New Line Home Video.