By Kyle G. King. This is RETROGRADING, where if you got the guts, drop the gun.
THE FILM: Rumble in the Bronx
THE TIME: 1995, when Jackie Chan was still a relative unknown in the United States.
RECOLLECTIONS: Serving as his own stuntman and the film’s lead stunt director, Jackie Chan not only arrived as a new action star, he single-handedly introduced a whole new style of stunts and fight scenes largely unseen by Western audiences. Finally, in 1995, the American public was able to enjoy his scrappy, ‘I don’t want any trouble but I’ll use everything around me to kick your ass’ style in all its glory with Rumble in the Bronx. Though supremely dated and plagued by the unflattering tropes of its time, the film remains a cultural touchstone for action movies, American or otherwise.
Rumble in the Bronx unfolds like an edgy Hong Kong soap opera, fitted with gangs, motorcycles, diamond thieves, and broad plot devices. Of course, people weren’t sitting down with this movie for its stellar writing; the entire appeal of Rumble in the Bronx is Jackie Chan, the physicality and grace in his fighting style coupled with his undeniable charisma.
Both behind the camera and in front of it (Chan was the stunt director for the film, as he has been for many other pictures), Chan brought a musical pace to his fight scenes that built towards its insane climax, making time for a quick joke here and there, only to jump right back into the film’s wild fisticuffs. As it is with many of Jackie’s Hong Kong films, Rumble in the Bronx blended action and comedy together so well that it’s practically impossible to tell when you’re not supposed to have that goofy grin plastered all over your face.
THE DIRECTOR: As vital as Jackie was being in charge of his own film’s stunts, he required a filmmaking team with the skill and patience that would allow him to accomplish the things he wanted to do on set. Stanley Tong was also a product of Hong Kong’s manic martial arts studio system and had worked with Jackie previously on Police Story 3: Supercop. A stuntman turned director himself, Tong would test many of the stunts that Jackie was asked to do on the set of Rumble in the Bronx. This trust in Jackie, and vice-versa, was key in making Mr. Chan’s American debut stick. Adapting Hong Kong action for American audiences would take experience and skill, and it was evident from the first that Mr. Tong’s collaboration with his star would boast both.
THE CAST: Filled out with a cast of American, Canadian, and Chinese stuntmen, Rumble in the Bronx owed its action bonafides to a crew of stunt performers who clocked in as actors. As he’s often known to do in Hong Kong, Chan was relentless as a stunt director, rifling through take after take to find the perfect shot in even in its smallest detail, demanding resilience and perfection over a quick shoot that saved money. Such an approach led to risks: Chan suffered a broken ankle, and several other cast members were saddled with broken limbs and injuries. Rumble in the Bronx was an ambitious and challenging film to its audience, but it was even more so for its cast.
Beyond the rubble of broken bodies, Chan had built a cinematic bridge between China and the United States. He elevated so called ‘kung-fu’ movies trapped in American cult communities by not playing to caricature. Chan’s character Keung gets hurt, he makes mistakes, and occasionally, he loses. Not afraid to humanize himself by being weak, Chan led the Rumble in the Bronx to an even bigger emotional payoff by the film’s end.
NOSTALGIA-FEST OR REPRESSED NIGHTMARE? Rumble in the Bronx remains a notable footnote for action movies, a nostalgic nod to the days when America began to feel a ripple of change coming all the way from China.
RETROGRADE: 6.5 out of 10