By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat February 29, 1996
Over the past ten years, since the New
York Film Festival's premiere of "Police
Story," Hong Kong cinema has gradu
ally built an international following with its ferocious action extravaganzas brimming with over-the-top stunts and energetic camera work. Filmmakers like John Woo and Tsui Hark have moved into the spotlight for the mediaphiles who scour fanzines and video stores searching for the latest Hong Kong actioneer.
At the forefront of the movement is Jackie Chan, a phenomenally popular Kung Fu stuntman-turned-actor/director who's been described as the best-loved action star in the world outside America. His style is a combination of traditional martial arts, outrageous self-performing stunts, and physical buffoonery reminiscent of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
While Hollywood lavishes millions of dollars hoping that audiences will lose themselves in luminous explosions and dramatic intensity, Chan's films revel in their "quick and dirty" approach, throwing together several films a year with silly theatrics and awe-inspiring stuntwork. Their tongue-in-cheek attitude and action-filled stories stripped clean of anything resembling meaningful drama have become the action movies of choice for the alternative film culture and devotees like Quentin Tarantino.
The popularity tide has most recently spawned "Rumble in the Bronx," the first domestic release of a Hong Kong film by an American distributor. The film is quintessential Chan: cheap, sentimental drama and embarrassingly bad acting served as an excuse for truly amazing action pieces.
Chan plays Keong, a tourist who comes to New York City to attend his uncle's wedding. As he helps out in his uncle's grocery store in the Bronx, he becomes the target of a ruthless gang who drive their motorcycles over the neighborhood cars, shoplift, and sporadically beat people up.
Keong befriends a paraplegic boy played by an annoyingly poor actor, whose older sister is the girlfriend of the gang's leader. However, two-thirds of the way into the movie, the gang doesn't seem so bad after all and another foe, a menacing crime lord, presents himself. He's aided by violent stooges who grumble their lines in monotone and clarify their antagonistic presence by slapping the little boy around.
It's important to be clear about this: "Rumble in the Bronx" contains an amazing amount of bad acting, cliched events, drab dialogue, and unintentionally hilarious drama. One of the film's most "dramatic" devices pivots on whether the paraplegic's sister will buy him a new cushion for his wheelchair. Everyone in the movie is preoccupied with this cushion. The bad guys steal it, they rip it up, the boy cries, the sister cries, Chan beats them up. Dramatists have searched for such intrinsically helpful props for centuries, and this movie utilizes the dramatic significance of the cushion scene after scene.
However, the movie's shockingly inept drama is sort of appealing. What is most insulting about Hollywood's preponderance for action is its halfhearted attempts to convince audience's that its cliches and limping narratives are dramatic fireballs. "Rumble in the Bronx" has no such intimations of importance. The drama is so weak, it's easy to completely dismiss everything in lieu of the action.
Chan's films are self-referential and they succeed like an Evil Knieval stunt. Audiences get hooked, not by the narrative, but by the real drama inherent in watching a successful star continually perform death-defying stunts that often end in broken bones and serious injuries. His films conclude with outtakes showing the accidents that occurred while filming, Chan being carried off on various stretchers, lending everything a documentary feel.
"Rumble in the Bronx" delivers its goods. Chan leaps from building to building over forty-foot drops, he climbs multilevel parking garages clinging to the outside of the cement, he fights 20 people at once, and he water-skis behind a boat without skis, bouncing along the water like a rubber ball on asphalt. The movie may contain horrendous drama, but who really cares? When a man runs up a wall and flips over a 15-foot high fence, you're not watching drama, you're watching an athletic event. Leave drama to the specialists.