Retrospective: The ‘Rush Hour’ franchise

"Rush Hour" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Rush Hour" Japanese Theatrical Poster

It’s time for Rush Hour

The two largest movie markets in the world are the US and Asia, and both countries have fervent fans of the other’s trademark films. So it was only natural that director Brett Ratner hoped that combining the iconic styles of each culture would become a hit with Rush Hour (1998).

“The Buddy Movie” meets “Comedy Kung Fu”

There’s a long standing Hollywood tradition of pairing two distinctly different personalities and having them work together. Police films work especially well for this genre. While some films such Red Heat (1988) and the Lethal Weapon (1987) movies have semi-serious plot lines, most of the buddy movies involve somewhat of a comedic element as the two partners clash in terms of style and personality.

The classic kung fu movies mostly featured a singular hero and a more serious and somewhat moralistic plot line, at least until Jackie Chan invented the comedy kung fu film with Drunken Master (1978).

Rush Hour, and the subsequent sequels, was one of the first tastes many mainstream American audiences had of the comedic kung fu style. In the films, Chan plays a Hong Kong detective whose case brings him to the US, where he is paired with a Los Angeles detective played by Chris Tucker. The plot lines in all three are somewhat hackneyed and are heavy on formula. The main draw is Tucker and Chan and their interactions.

"Rush Hour 2" Japanese DVD Cover

"Rush Hour 2" Japanese DVD Cover

Did Rush Hour work?

The general consensus is that any movie that spawns multiple sequels (with another supposedly in pre-production) is a success. By Hollywood standards Rush Hour, with US box office receipts of $141 million, was a modest success. The fact that the film succeeded at all is surprising due to Chan’s frequent statements that he does not understand nor fully appreciate American humor. When you combine that aspect with the fact that Chris Tucker improvises most of his lines, the fact that the movies succeed at all is somewhat amazing. Chan’s well documented desire for perfection (he once demanded 300 takes for a single scene and almost 3,000 for a ten-minute segment) played a large role in the trilogy’s success.

Rush Hour Fun Facts

This was one of the first American films where Jackie Chan’s lines were not overdubbed. Chan was never comfortable with his English and all of his previous English roles were overdubbed. Director Ratner felt that having Chan deliver his own lines would add to the authenticity of the film.

Ratner’s addition to detail is not as evident in other aspects of the film. All three of the movies are stand-outs in the field of continuity errors. Chan’s suspenders change patterns, bar stools change colors, the wheels on Tucker’s Corvette change, and in one of the more standout mistakes a taxi changes make and model and then back again.

Some of the technical details are just as bad. A car loaded with C4 explodes from a gunshot and kidnappers demand a ransom in small bills meaning that the payout would weigh over a ton.

"Rush Hour 3" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Rush Hour 3" Japanese Theatrical Poster

The movies do have some nice little Easter-Egg type touches, especially in Rush Hour 2 (2001). Jackie Chan has long said that his favorite number is 32, perhaps that is the point where he started counting the numerous of broken bones he has sustained from doing his own stunts. The number makes numerous appearances in the film, including on the license plate of the villain’s car.

However the best use of the number 32 comes in one of the mandatory fight scenes. In a scene that relies heavily on Chan’s comedic talents, he finds himself in the unpleasant position of having a remote controlled grenade taped in his mouth. Chris Tucker manages to remove the tape and Chan spits the grenade from his mouth and onto the roulette wheel. As anyone who knows from playing roulette the probability and the odds of the pill landing on any number is 38-to-1, but of course we (briefly) see the grenade land on number 32 just before it explodes.

Longtime Chan fans will notice many familiar jokes and situations in the film. The director felt that American audiences would be unfamiliar with the kung fu star’s earlier work and had several of his classic gags and moves incorporated into the script.

The building used for the exterior of the Chinese Consulate is the same one as was used as the exterior for Wayne Manor in the original Batman! TV show.

Justin Hires and Jon Foo in the "Rush Hour" TV series.

Justin Hires and Jon Foo in the "Rush Hour" TV series.

The casino in Rush Hour 2 was the empty Dessert Sands in Las Vegas. The production company erected a huge “Red Dragon” casino marquee out front and painted part of the exterior red. Several windows were blown out and the walls sustained smoke damage during the filming. The casino remained standing for several months after production ended and provided an interesting conversation topic for tourists on the Las Vegas strip that were unaware of the upcoming movie.

About a year ago, Jackie Chan told British television presenter Jonathan Ross that for him to consider doing another instalment in the series that the script would have to be really good. Hollywood insiders feel that director Ratner is keen to do so mainly due to the lackluster results of his latest efforts. According to a number of sources, Rush Hour 4 is in pre-production and should be released by 2017, while the franchise is also being turned into a television show – which has Jon Foo taking over Jackie Chan’s role, and comedian Justin Hires filling in for Tucker.

Despite the star power in the previous films, none of them honestly rate much higher than a C+. There have been a number of films in the genre over the past few years, none of which were blockbusters. That plus the fact that at 61, Chan may decide that it’s time to rest a bit, means that the film may never get to the screen and that its success if far from assured.

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5 Responses to Retrospective: The ‘Rush Hour’ franchise

  1. Ningen21 says:

    ‘Despite the star power in the previous films, none of them honestly rate much higher than a C+.’

    I would say the second one’s a bit better than that. But yeah, that’s about right in general. Third one’s the worst, though.

    • DougWonnacott says:

      I think C+ is being generous. I guess a lot of it depends on your tolerance of Chris Tucker. Personally I struggled to get though any of them due to Tucker’s overbearing, unfunny (IMO of course) persona. I enjoyed the first one and the second one to a lesser extent, but it was heavily tainted for me by Tucker’s performance. I couldn’t even get the end of the third one.

      They also have the same issue as all of Chan’s american films, a director who is just about competent (barely, as Sapo pointed out with the continuity errors), but has little to no vision or distinctive style. Ratner is a big Jackie fan and is happy to promote Hong Kong action cinema when asked (which is great), but despite being a big devotee and a film director, he doesn’t seem to have much idea of what works and what doesn’t in a Jackie Chan film and why.

      To be fair to Ratner and the others who’ve directed Chan’s american efforts, I guess Jackie would have some demands about how he’s used and the general tone of the film. They are essentially directors for hire rather than auteurs with the their own distinctive vision and style. Perhaps Jackie is still a bit apprehensive after his experiences in the 80s working on Battle Creek Brawl, Cannonball Run I & II and The Protector.

      I’ve got about 40 Jackie Chan films on dvd, but not the Rush Hour trilogy.

      If I were going to rate Jackie’s English language films in order of preference, I think the first Rush Hour would come about sixth.

      Personally, although the action may not be up to his usual standard and it’s not your typical Jackie Chan film, my favourite of his English language films is Battle Creek Brawl. It makes very good use of Jackie’s comic talents, it’s a light hearted, fun, knockabout action comedy. The skills Jackie uses in the choreography to work around the other actor’s severe lack of speed, agility and movement is impressive and gives a unique style to the fights. It also features the hilarious line “That chink don’t fight right. He fights foreign.”

      • Ningen21 says:

        I’m just glad Ratner didn’t do the shaky cam thing. No comment on ‘Brawl, though, since I haven’t seen it yet.

  2. Masterofoneinchpunch says:

    Jackie Chan did not invent the kung fu comedy. Both Karl Maka (The Good, the Bad and the Loser (1976)) and Lau Kar-leung (Spiritual Boxer) had done kung fu comedies before the two important JC Seasonal films. I’m sure there is more if we look for them. Michael Hui was incorporating kung fu gags in his comedies as well.

    Good point on the number 32 (Magic Johnson’s number).

    I’m so-so with the Rush Hour series. Sure I’ll watch the fourth. Brett Ratner is a fan, though if you ever get a chance to listen to his commentary on Police Story you can find so many mistakes from him where he is often corrected by Bey Logan. Ratner has enthusiasm, actors tend to like him, I just think of him as more of a journeyman director (as doug says non-auteur’s not that there is anything wrong with this, there have been many good directors with this personality over the years.) I’m OK with Chris Tucker, but he does wear a bit thin sometimes with his bombastic personality. This may be blasphemous but I like his pairing more with Owen Wilson.

  3. Nowadays, it’s practically expected for blockbusters to come in parts. It’s not only franchises that Jackson—to his own detriment—helped to popularize, but also the epic fantasy.

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