Rumble in the Bronx [紅番區] (1995)
Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Bill Tung, Francoise Yip, Marc Akerstream, Garvin Cross, Morgan Lam, Ailen Sit Chun-Wai, Kris Lord, Yueh Hua, Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai, Carrie Cain-Sparks
Directed by Stanley Tong
Expectations: Very high!
All things considered:
Just the action:
If I had to point to a single movie that changed my life, it’s without a doubt Rumble in the Bronx. While I had seen some Bruce Lee films as a kid, Rumble in the Bronx was my first real taste of the Hong Kong movie. Even in its somewhat watered-down form as released in the US, the film completely and utterly destroyed my brain. I became immediately obsessed with Jackie Chan, to the point of not being able to watch American action films for years because they didn’t have the reckless, dangerous, “real-life” quality to the action that typifies the Hong Kong films of the ’80s and ’90s. This obsession even led me to dig deep into classic films, researching the work of Buster Keaton (a major influence on Jackie), which would eventually evolve all the way to me starting up this very blog as a way to express my unique and eclectic taste in film.
Roughly 20 years has passed by now, and re-watching Rumble in the Bronx for the first time in at least 10 years has given me a new understanding of the film (especially after reviewing my way up through Jackie’s filmography). I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed, or that it failed to live up to my personal legacy with it, but it definitely has its issues. I experienced a similar feeling when I reviewed Police Story III: Supercop, and within the films’ shared creative team the reasons for this emerge.
Both films were directed by Stanley Tong, and as I mentioned in my Supercop review, they were used as the one-two punch to insert Jackie into the American pop culture consciousness. This was a highly successful endeavor, and these two films’ specific attempts to be more internationally appealing instead of just everyday Hong Kong movies is what I believe allowed for this to happen. Even though Drunken Master 2 is a superior film, there’s a fairly large barrier to entry for the average American. Rumble in the Bronx works with stories and settings and character arcs common to the US viewer, making the impressive Hong Kong-style action pop off the screen and ignite the kinds of mental fire needed for Jackie to breakthrough. Unfortunately, this also buries the amazing Anita Mui in a damsel role, which really is a disappointment after her wonderful supporting performance in Drunken Master 2.
What I’m getting at is that while this sort of approach was perfect for Jackie’s US breakthrough in 1996, the film just doesn’t play nearly as well against the rest of his filmography. The action remains incredible, and I’m still of the mind that the fights and stunt sequences of Rumble in the Bronx are among the best he ever performed, but overall the film hasn’t aged well in just about every other aspect. Other Jackie films suffer a similar fate, but it feels more apparent and detrimental to Rumble in the Bronx. As in: I don’t know that new viewers (specifically people who were born around the time of the film’s release or after) will be able to appreciate just how incredible a film like this is, because all they’ll see is the flaws of the era that are endearing to those of us who lived through them. Perhaps I’m wrong, as I’ve seen the film incorrectly referred to an American film multiple times throughout the years, so maybe the film’s flaws are far less apparent than they were to me this time. I’ve also seen this close to a million times, so there’s that working against the film as well.
So I’ve spent a lot of time lightly disparaging Rumble in the Bronx for being of its time, but I want to be clear that I absolutely love this movie. There is not a boring moment in the whole movie, and I’m watching the original HK cut that’s almost 20 minutes longer. If anything the added length just makes it a better and more pleasing movie. Who woulda thought that the original version that wasn’t hacked to pieces, re-scored and re-dubbed would be better?
In terms of choreography, the quickness and extreme complexity of Drunken Master 2 carries over, but now it is mixed with Jackie’s love of using his surroundings. Together they form a style that sets the fights of Rumble in the Bronx above much of his other work. If Drunken Master 2 is the peak, then Rumble in the Bronx is the natural extension of that excellence into the modern era. Nearly every moment in the fights feature some crazy stunt, whether that’s a jump, the precise use of an object (but made to look spontaneous), or some other dangerous shenanigans. This leaves you very little time to breathe, and the fights here are the perfect example of what makes up a fight that is endlessly re-watchable.
The fights contain a nearly non-stop parade of iconic images (Jackie jumping through the back of a shopping cart, using fridge doors to attack and defend, using a ski as if it were a staff, etc.) The “big stunt” of the film — the jump from the roof of the parking garage to the balcony of the neighboring building — has to be one of his craziest, most dangerous, most impressive stunts of a career filled with stunts that could be labelled much the same. The first time you see these kinds of things, there’s no way to take them all in and appreciate just how incredible they is. It instantly commands your awe and respect, but the quality is so high that even after years of intense scrutiny the spell is never broken. This is exactly why Rumble in the Bronx remains one of the greatest Jackie Chan films, despite not being an especially great movie in its non-action aspects. This is also typical of the then-current Hong Kong approach to filmmaking, where action and a performer’s abilities were the most important aspect of the production.
Rumble in the Bronx is an incredible action movie, perhaps made even more impressive in the years following because you just don’t see anything like this anymore, in Hong Kong or otherwise. The overall film may be weak in character and story, but it more than makes up for this in its action. I hold onto the hope that one day the film will be readily available in its original form worldwide.
And one last thing: When I was watching this movie in the ’90s I didn’t know much about the Shaw Brothers. But guess what? The incredible Shaw Brothers star Yueh Hua appears in a small role as the real estate agent bringing Anita Mui (and later another couple) to the supermarket. He’s hard to recognize, but it’s him! I had no idea!
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is Gordon Chan’s Thunderbolt, the Jackie Chan film I showed to my couldn’t-care-less grandma when I was a teenager! With action by the Jackie Chan Stunt Team AND the Sammo Hung Stunt Team! See ya then!