When Bruce Lee, in his B-movie chop-athons, faced an army of attackers, he turned into a human decimation machine, flicking away foes with hypnotic repetition. (The joke was that each new victim somehow thought he wasn’t going to end up on the mash pile.) Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong martial-arts wizard who is the inheritor of Lee’s crown, is a far less imposing performer. In the exuberantly tacky action thriller Rumble in the Bronx, Chan, in addition to the usual kicks, jabs, punches, and flying leaps, clowns around on screen and breaks into broad, crinkly smiles; he’s so relaxed he even includes footage of his outtakes (a Chan tradition).
What truly humanizes him, though, is that when he’s outnumbered, he doesn’t automatically shift into kamikaze destroy mode. Instead, he scrambles — madly. Surrounded by enemies, he scurries up chain-link fences, bounds atop refrigerators, and jumps off buildings. He dives headfirst through a car’s sunroof and scissors his legs apart. He does these things with such sureness of movement and timing that the very ingenuity of his escapes becomes a new, comic form of battle: knowing when you’re licked and getting away like a bullet speeding in reverse.
An international superstar who has been churning out chopsocky jamborees for two decades, Jackie Chan could be described as a visionary nihilist daredevil (he does all his own stunt work), and Rumble in the Bronx is his attempt to tap into the lucrative American market. The plot has something to do with Chan’s arriving in the Bronx to visit relatives and getting swept into combat with a gang of motorcycle hooligans and, finally, some diamond-stealing mobsters. None of this is staged with anything approaching dramatic interest. The pleasure of the movie lies exclusively in Chan’s Bruce Lee-meets-Fred Astaire-meets-Tom and Jerry brand of lickety-split balletic mayhem.
Rumble in the Bronx never quite achieves the smack-you-around zest of Chan’s Hong Kong pictures. The interplay between sadism and comedy lacks the cool jab of, say, his Police Story series (which isn’t readily available on tape in the U.S.). Still, it’s hard to dislike a movie with such a friendly sense of the preposterous. At the end, when Chan does battle with a giant hovercraft that slithers around city streets almost as quickly as he does, it’s a sight to leave James Bond gaping in his tux. B-