No Fear. No Stuntman. No Equal.
The king of comedy kung fu and stunt masochist nonpareil, Jackie Chan first introduced his signature cinematic style to mainstream American audiences in Rumble in the Bronx. An early release by New Line, it regrettably offers little aside from a decent technical presentation.
Until Rumble in the Bronx came along, I had never been that interested in a martial arts movie. Actually, with the exception of Jackie Chan movies, I still have very little interest in the genre. I acknowledge the classical prowess of Bruce Lee and the modern efforts of such skilled practitioners as Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die), but I just don't have the taste for their movies. Perhaps I am exactly the audience that New Line had in mind when it decided to showcase Jackie Chan to the U.S.!
For me, what sets Jackie Chan (Police Story, Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon) apart is a combination of the breathtaking athleticism of his stunts, a do-or-die passion for doing all of his own stunt work, and a substantial dose of humor. Rumble in the Bronx has all of these in abundant measure! However, it does have shortcomings typical for a Jackie Chan flick, though you may find as I did that these do not significantly detract from your viewing pleasure. The story does not clearly and logically flow from point to point. Rather, it is a bit of an incoherent muddle, where you can't take the time to figure out the rapidly shifting plot, lest you miss another frenetic action scene. The acting is not world-class, tending to be broadly played and stereotypical, but I give credit to Jackie Chan for his yeoman efforts. He comes off as a sincere everyman, exceptionally skilled in martial arts to be sure, but still modest, cheerful, and with a strong sense of duty and conscience.
The story begins when Ah Keung (Jackie Chan) flies in to visit his Uncle Bill (Bill Tung), who has a thriving grocery store in the Bronx borough of New York City. Uncle Bill is selling his market on the occasion of his marriage to an earnest young entrepreneur, Elaine (Anita Mui). Keung is recruited to help Elaine with the transition, which soon brings him into conflict with a local biker gang, led by a tough named Tony (Marc Akerstream). When a group of Tony's thugs make trouble in the market, it is Keung's skill with martial arts that teaches them a short and sharp lesson. Before the day ends, Tony and his gang take revenge by trapping Keung in an alley and injuring him severely with a fusillade of glass missiles.
Battered and bloody, Keung is rescued by his neighbors, a handicapped young boy, Danny (Morgan Lam) and his sister Nancy (Francoise Yip), who is also Tony's girlfriend! Keung has barely time to get his wounds tended to and rest a night before Tony's gang sets upon him as soon as Keung sets foot on the street. After frantic flight and a hair's breadth escape by Keung, the story takes a sharp turn when suddenly we come across a diamond smuggling conspiracy led by an ominous businessman named White Tiger (Kris Lord). White Tiger's men have just eliminated their former business partners in a firefight when Tony's thugs stumble across a great cache of diamonds lost in the chaos.
Naturally, in one of those typical movie coincidences, the thug who steals the diamonds just happens to hide them in the cushion of Danny's wheelchair. When White Tiger's thugs come looking for their stolen loot, headaches ensue for Tony's thugs as well as Keung and his new pal Danny. Though Tony's gang is still intent on causing damage to Elaine, her market, and her protector Keung, Tony soon has an abrupt change of heart and allies with Keung against their common enemy. Thus the endgame (featuring an impressive hovercraft sequence) is set—Keung (with some help) must confront and defeat White Tiger and his men so that Keung, his friends, family and new allies can all live in peace.
As a brief aside, see how dramatically the U.S. version of the film has been edited by checking out the link at right for a tale of two "Rumbles."
The anamorphic video transfer is not reference quality, but it is very good all the same. The transfer falls short only due to a moderate softness of picture and a fair sprinkling of flecks of dirt and small film defects. Otherwise, the picture is clear, with well-saturated colors, limited digital artifacts (mostly visible edge enhancement), and good low-light shots. Pretty good stuff for a movie filmed on a modest budget ($7.5 million according to the IMDb)!
The audio is a bit of a disappointment as a 5.1 mix, given the high standards of modern releases (such as Independence Day or Twister SE). The sound is very narrow, with the action almost exclusively located in the center channel. Even when I would expect the action to shift to left or right (based upon the on-screen activity), the sound generally stays stubbornly in the center. Thus the front mains are used mostly for soundtrack and atmospheric use, with the rear surrounds used to any effect on rare occasion. The brightest spot is the abundant use of the LFE channel, which gives the action and soundtrack a very welcome and solid thump.
Be sure to stick around for the end credits for one of the treats that makes a Jackie Chan film a treasure to watch, namely the outtakes and botched stunt scenes. After you watch these credit sequences, you will have a new respect for the risks stunt performers in general and Jackie Chan in particular take for the sake of their craft. No wonder he has trouble getting insurance for his films!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
First released about three years ago, Rumble in the Bronx has only the barest of extras. The usual theatrical trailer and several pages of background on Jackie Chan are all that you get. Since this was mainstream America's first introduction to Jackie Chan, it would have been nice to get a greater insight into the man, the movie, and his signature style. I bet Jackie would be quite happy to chat about any of his films for a featurette or a commentary track! Odds are poor for a special edition, but perhaps New Line might surprise us.
Another small annoyance is that the disc sports 22 chapter stops, but you can select only nine scenes from the scene selection menu. Tsk tsk!
For a change of pace, or for fans of martial arts flicks or light-hearted action in general, Rumble in the Bronx is worth your time, though the limited plot and cursory character development may annoy some. It excels as a popcorn flick, brimming with impressive stunt sequences, hyper-kinetic fights, and Jackie Chan humor. By all means, rent it with some friends, and be sure to stick around for the closing credits. If Jackie Chan is to your tastes, the near bare bones disc is attractively priced ($20 list).
Faster than a Jackie Chan fight scene, all parties are acquitted. New Line is requested by the Court to consider giving this fun film the extra content it deserves. I can see it now: Rumble in the Bronx: Collector's Edition. Yeah!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Theatrical Trailer
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