In the last few years, the action movie has seen itself teamed up with other genres such as comedy, romance and disaster in order to broaden its waning appeal. Only a handful of movies continued to rely upon pure action, and almost all of these originated from or were inspired by Hong Kong directors. Jackie Chan’s movies were the perfect example, almost always mixing a highly unbelievable plot with incredible fighting sequences.
One paid seven dollars not to be intellectually challenged, but to watch Chan’s incredible choreography and death-defying stunts. His ability to constantly innovate and to present the audience with new visual gifts of amazing speed and skill made his movies a joy to watch.
For these reasons I went to Rush Hour fully expecting a less enjoyable experience than usual. Rush Hour is primarily a comedy, and though I greatly enjoyed Chan’s co-star Chris Tucker in Money Talks, I was unsure whether the two could pull off a successful venture. However, by the end of the film, my doubts had vanished into a sea of laughter as Chan’s outtakes rolled across the screen.
Naturally, the plot in Rush Hour is pretty flimsy. After nearly wiping out a crime ring in Hong Kong on the eve of the Chinese takeover, Consul Han is sent to the United States with his young daughter. Within a few months, though, the same crime syndicate kidnaps his daughter, and the Consul brings his fleet of foot friend Lee (Chan) over to the U.S. to find her.
At the same time, the FBI does not want a foreign national getting involved in the kidnapping, so they ask the LAPD to send one of their cops to keep Lee out of the way. Why the LAPD? Well, since it is such a lousy job, nobody in the FBI wants to do it! Enter the loud-mouthed, plastic- faced Chris Tucker as James Carter, a cop who spews egotism and gullibility at the same time. Finally, Carter discovers how bad his “assignment” really is, and he and Detective Inspector Lee join forces to find the girl, get the head of the syndicate, and save the day.
For Chan fanatics, his action is limited but still spectacular. One scene in particular, in which he fights two men while keeping an ancient Chinese vase from falling, is vintage Chan. He also displays his incredible reflexes during a fight scene in a pool hall, and while it is vaguely reminiscent of his previous film Rumble in the Bronx, Chan manages to mix it up enough so that his fluid movements remain fresh.
This movie is much more than a typical action movie, though, for the dynamic between Tucker and Chan keeps the film both exciting and hilarious. Tucker alone is a genuinely funny actor. The moments he generates with Chan, however, become especially hilarious. Watching Carter teach Lee how to dance is impressive, especially as the pupil’s style becomes an exaggerated parody of his mentor’s snake-like movements.
Unlike most “buddy-cop” movies, the dialogue is raw and full of genuine confusion. These are not two cops who like each other, or even just enjoy teasing each other. Instead both have somewhat believable, somewhat dynamic characters. While they do become closer by the end of the movie, a tension remains that is usually resolved in most movies. This tension makes the comedy work well, allowing the action to become funny and the jokes to seamlessly blend into fights.
Another great asset of Rush Hour is its ability to surprise. Standard movie convention seems to have been forgotten here, as characters seem both more realistic and appealing. Julia Hsu, as the daughter of the Consul, puts up a tremendous fight during the kidnapping sequence, even though one would expect it to end quickly. She is so tough that the evil henchman contracts a nasty scar in the sequence that stays with him until the finale. In another excellent part, Carter and the same henchman battle in a neo-Western format, with each challenging the other to “fight like a man.” The result is both surprising and impressive.
If you’re looking for a unique movie that blends awesome martial arts, hilarious comedy, and well-dressed cops, then Rush Hour is it. Easily the funniest movie of the fall, it manages to please on many levels. And who but Jackie Chan could make the audience stay through the credits just to see a collection of outtakes from the movie? Like Rush Hour itself, they are funny, action-packed and a blast to watch.