Rumble in the Bronx

By Deane Barker

With all the subtlety of a kick in the head, Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan lands smack dab on American soil in his first bid for mainstream success. Specializing in Chinese Kung Fu and action wild enough to make your teeth shatter, Chan runs from street punks, chases gangsters, and destroys damn-near everything he touches.

The plot is a no-brainer: Chan plays Keung, a young Chinese lad who comes over from Hong Kong to help his uncle sell the family store (Whoa! Who’d of thunk?). Trouble starts when Keung ends up on the wrong side of the local gang (not so fast Jackie, you’re losing me…) Throw in some mobsters, a bag full of stolen diamonds, a beauty who just happens to be the local gang leader’s girlfriend, and a perpetually frightened kid in a wheelchair who doesn’t seem to say anything except “What’s happening?!”, and you have the recipe for…well, for about every Hong Kong martial arts movie ever made. But that’s not the point. We all know where we’re going, the fun is in getting there.

And getting there is downright mind-blowing at times. Chan is perhaps the most gifted cinematic martial artist in existence. Chan doesn’t just fight, he explodes. He doesn’t just move, he hurtles. He doesn’t just punch, he detonates. And if you think he’s good unarmed, just wait until he gets his hands on something. One fight scene in has him using skis, bottles, refrigerators, and pinball machines to devastating effect. Chan consistently left the audience applauding spontaneously in slack-jawed disbelief. Ten minutes of outtakes at the end of the film prove that Chan leaves nothing to stuntmen.

As a bonus, Chan has a undeniably firm grip on comedy. The one-liners and physical comedy scenes are abundant, and the movie stays solidly light-hearted. Even feeding a gang member into a tree-shredding machine, then having his buddy show up with the remains in garbage bags seems somehow funny. The fight scenes are too far over-the-top to be taken seriously, and watch for a cute comic scene with a two-way mirror.

The movie does, however, have its problems. It was originally shot in Chinese and dubbed into English. Consequently, the emotion in the voice doesn’t always match the emotion in the face of the supposed speaker, and the disparities unwittingly lead to some of bigger laughs of the film. The movie finishes with a terrible freeze-frame ending that’s painfully abrupt, and the whole thing has a cheap Godzilla-type look to it. Makes you wonder what Chan could do with a big-name director and a budget to match.

Chan, for his part, wears the same frightened expression throughout the entire film – as if he’s in real danger or something. We all know this is rubbish, and Chan proves it by neatly dispatching everything from gang members to hovercrafts. With skill like his, it’s a wonder how he can manage any expression save unshakable confidence. His acting is objectively bland, but he has an wonderfully endearing quality that prods the viewer to smooth over the rough edges when the plot and acting fall short.

This film isn’t going win any Oscars. That’s not its intention. Let’s face it, Rumble in the Bronx is essentially a pornographic film with action substituted for sex. On this level it succeeds admirably. If you’re looking for something deeper, then I’m left wondering why you went to see a movie named Rumble in the Bronx in the first place.

As a Mainstream film: C-

As a Martial Arts Film: A-

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