Saturday, April 23, 2016

Stubs - Rush Hour

Rush Hour (1998) Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Penn, Elizabeth Pena. Directed by Brett Ratner. Screenplay by Jim Kouf, Ross LaManna. Produced by Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Arthur M. Sarkissian. Color. USA. Run time: 97 minutes. Comedy, Action, Thriller, Crime

Sometimes you come by a movie for odd reasons. One recent Saturday evening, after seeing a matinee of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder at the Ahmanson Theater, we went to Chinatown to take a look around and to have dinner. We ended up dining at Foo Chow, which proudly declares on the side of their building that Rush Hour was shot there.

After a delicious dinner, we decided to check out Rush Hour, a film I must admit to avoiding when it was first released, when we got home and found the movie was available to watch.

The story begins on July 1, 1997, the last day of British rule in Hong Kong. Detective Inspector Lee of the Hong Kong Police Force (Jackie Chan) leads a raid at a shipping bar wharf, looking for numerous Chinese cultural treasures that are being smuggled out of the country by a mysterious crime lord called Juntao. While the raid is successful, he finds Juntao’s right-hand man, Sang (Ken Leung), who manages to escape.

Lee makes his announcement to Solon Han (Tzi Ma), the Chinese Consul, at a farewell dinner with the departing British Commander Thomas Griffin (Tom Wilkinson). Han is also about to be named the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, stationed in Los Angeles. Han’s young daughter, Soo Yung (Julia Hsu), has a special relationship with Lee and on his way out, talks to him about moving to LA. He tells her that everything will be all right.

Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) informs the Chinese Consul,
Solon Han (Tzi Ma), about the seizure of stolen items.

Turns out, he appears to be right. She seems to be happy when she gets into the limo that will take her to her first day of school, even singing to the English-language pop song on the radio. But she doesn’t make it to school. Her limo is re-routed and then ambushed. While her bodyguards are shot and killed by Sang in a Los Angeles Police uniform, Soo runs. But Sang must have anticipated that, since a man on a motorcycle rides by and scoops her up.

Soo Yung (Julia Hsu), who has no idea she's about to be kidnapped, sings
 out loud along with the radio much to her bodyguards' chagrin.

FBI agents Russ (Mark Rolston) and Whitney (Rex Linn) inform Consul Han about the incident and while he appreciates their help, he insists on calling in Lee to help with the case, reminding the FBI that he and his daughter are Chinese citizens. The FBI has no interest in having a foreign interloper hanging around and decide to have someone chaperone Lee around town and keep him out of their way and safe from harm. Feeling that it would be a waste for an agent to do it, they decide to outsource it to the LAPD.

LAPD detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) meets with FBI agents
Russ (Mark Rolston) and Whitney (Rex Linn) about his new assignment.

Enter James Carter (Chris Tucker), a reckless detective who doesn’t treat his would-be partner Detective Tania Johnson (Elizabeth Peña) with much respect. Carter likes to work alone and does so on an undercover case alone, arresting an arms dealer, Clive (Chris Penn), when he tries to sell him plastic explosives. While Carter makes the arrest, two LAPD officers end up being shot, one losing a pinky, and Carter explodes Clive’s car in the middle of Hollywood Blvd.

When the FBI call Captain Diel (Philip Baker Hall) looking for a patsy, he is more than happy to rid himself of Carter. Carter doesn’t realize this and thinks this is a big opportunity to finally work at the FBI, which is where he thinks he belongs. It is only after he leaves does he find out, via a call from the other officers, that he learns he’s been tricked. To show them, Carter decides to solve the case himself.

At LAX, Carter meets Lee’s plane and then proceeds to take him on a tour of Hollywood. But Lee wants to get to the consulate and manages to get away, even after Carter handcuffs him to his car’s steering wheel. Carter does track him down, having his car towed to the consulate.

Lee doesn't like the tour of Hollywood Carter is trying to take him on and tries to lose him.

Agent Russ is not happy with Carter and is reprimanding him when Sang calls. Carter answers the phone and arranges for a ransom of $50 million to be delivered in a couple of hours. Carter keeps Sang on the phone long enough for the police to trace the call to a warehouse. Even though Lee tries to warn them not to, the FBI sends a team of agents into the building. But it’s a trap and a bomb goes off with the agents nearby.

Lee sees Sang on the street nearby and takes chase. Thanks to Carter’s bungling, Sang manages to escape, but does drop a detonator on the way. Carter takes it to Johnson, who is training for the bomb squad. She helps them trace the detonator to Clive, who is still in custody. Lee guilt trips the hardened Clive into admitting he’s working for Juntao, whom he met at a restaurant in Chinatown, Foo Chow.

Carter's would be partner, Detective Johnson (Elizabeth Pena), is training to work on the bomb squad.

Carter and Lee go to Chinatown and case the restaurant. While they’re walking around, they finally bond, as they talk about their relationship with their fathers. They even get into braggadocio about their fathers who were also both policemen: Carter says his father once arrested 15 by himself; Lee counters that his arrested 25; Carter ups the ante: “My daddy once saved five crackheads from a burning building, by himself.” To which Lee says, “My daddy once caught a bullet with his bare hand.”

Lee and Carter bond while they're waiting in Chinatown.

Carter goes into Foo Chow alone, pretending he’s Juntao’s lawyer and demands to meet him. He’s taken upstairs, where he sees a surveillance video showing Juntao carrying Soo Yung into a van in the alley. But Sang has no plans to let him go and orders his men to kill him. Enter Lee, disguised as a waiter from the restaurant. He rescues Carter, but Sang once again gets away. But Carter and Lee don’t realize that they’ve ruined the drop, which was also supposed to take place at Foo Chow.

Lee comes to Carter's aid.

Tired of Carter’s meddling, they arrange to send Lee back to Hong Kong and Carter is sent back to the LAPD to be disciplined. But Carter has other plans. He contacts Johnson and asks for her help. Then disguised as an airplane mechanic, he gets onboard Lee’s plane and persuades him to help finish the case.

Meanwhile, Griffin, who has heard about the kidnapping, comes to see his old friend Han and offer his assistance. He also reveals more about the Hong Kong Police Department’s past relationship with the mysterious Juntao and his criminal syndicate.

Since the last ransom drop was blown, Sang has agreed for more money, but to be delivered at the opening of a Chinese art exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This is the same art Lee had recovered from Juntao at the beginning of the film.

Han and Griffin, for some reason, are at the lectern and Han has trouble, considering his daughter is still kidnapped, getting through the speech. Griffin takes over for him. Carter, Johnson and Lee are also there, disguised as guests.

Carter, Johnson and Lee arrive at the Chinese art exhibit.

Carter makes a show of telling the guests to leave for their own safety and many do. This, of course, angers the FBI, who are still putting together the payment in one of the upstairs offices. During the hubbub, Lee watches Griffin walk over to the bar and retrieve a remote detonator from Sang, who is dressed as a waiter.

Everyone finally recognizes that Griffin is in fact the mysterious crime boss Juntao. He threatens to detonate a bomb vest that Soo Yung is wearing. He wants the ransom money as compensation for all of the priceless artifacts that Lee and the Chinese government had taken from him.

While Griffin is talking, Carter manages to sneak out. Figuring that Soo Yung must be being kept nearby, he finds her in a van. He tries to get the vest off, but he can’t do it. Instead, Carter drives the van into the building and brings Soo within range of Griffin. If he detonates the bomb vest, he will die, too.

Johnson, using her training, manages to get the vest off of Soo Yung. Meanwhile, Griffin heads to the roof with the bag of money to rendezvous with an escape helicopter. Lee takes the vest and pursues Griffin up the interior scaffolding.

Carter goes after Sang and the two engage in a shootout, wherein Carter shoots Sang dead. Lee manages to catch Griffin just below the roof and the two get into a fight and end up dangling from the rafters. Griffin, holding onto the vest around Lee, falls to his death when the fabric of the vest breaks. The fall kills Griffin. But even without the weight of Griffin pulling him down, Lee is losing his grip. Before he falls, Carter manages to maneuver a banner under him and catch him safely.

Han and his daughter Soo Yung are finally reunited. As a reward, Han sends Carter and Lee on vacation together to Hong Kong. But before he leaves, Carter is offered a position with the FBI by Agents Russ and Whitney. While this would be a dream come true, Carter rudely refuses their offer due to their earlier mistreatment of both him and Lee. Carter gets on the airplane with Lee, who starts singing Edwin Starr's "War", annoying Carter.

When it was first released, Rush Hour had no guarantee for box office success. The project had been around for a while, originally in development at Hollywood Pictures and then Touchstone Pictures before ending up at New Line. At the time the film started shooting on December 1, 1997, its stars, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, were far from household names, even though they had been in films prior. But after the film made $140 million in the U.S. and another $104 million, there didn’t appear to be a bottom for either of their careers.

As a child, Chan would appear in several films, including Big and Little Wong Tin Bar (1962), The Love Eterne (1963) and Come Drink With Me (1966). Later, he studied at the China Drama Academy, a Peking Opera School run by Master Yu Jim-Yuen where he excelled at martial arts and acrobatics. During the early 1970s, Chan would use this prowess as a stuntman in Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973).

Chan working with Bruce Lee.

Interested in his work, Chan was contacted by Willie Chan, a Hong Kong producer, who starred the actor in a series of films including Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978) and Drunken Master (1978).  His first Hollywood film was The Big Brawl (1980) and he had a minor role in Cannonball Run (1981). After his film The Protector (1985) failed at the box-office, Chan concentrated on making films in Hong Kong where his career blossomed with such films as Police Story 2 (1988), Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992) and Drunken Master II (1994) and Police Story 4: First Strike (1996). Rush Hour would be Chan’s first big success in the United States. Just as it would be for his co-star Chris Tucker.

Tucker had only been in films for five years.  He got his start as a stand-up comedian, before moving into films with The Meteor Man (1993) and House Party 3 (1994). Earlier roles in Money Talks and The Fifth Element, both released in 1997, earned him nominations, but for the Razzie Awards as Worst New Star, not the sort of recognition most actors seek out. His appearance in Rush Hour would lead to Rush Hour 2 (2001) and Rush Hour 3 (2007), both co-starring Chan, but nothing in between.

While Chan would build on his newfound fame and continue to make films in both Hong Kong and Hollywood, Tucker didn’t. In fact, after Rush Hour 3, he dropped out of films before a supporting role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Not sure why he was absent from films for so long, but given the strength of his performance in that film, it seems a shame.

Even though Hollywood is courting the Chinese market and despite the recent television series remake, it's hard to imagine that Rush Hour would be made today. While I haven’t watched it, I doubt the series, in this day and age of Political Correctness, would include the same derogatory language that was admissible in 1998 would see the screen today without an R rating. Carter refers to Lee as “Chow Mein” and to other blacks as “nigga,” something that wouldn’t be allowed today without a lot of outcry and criticism.

Add to that, Carter’s treatment of officer Johnson as little more than a sex object. In the beginning, he doesn’t take her seriously and that’s not only because she’s a woman.

Carter: I don't want no partner, I don't need no partner and I ain't never gonna have no partner. Did Kojak have a partner?

But even when he does need her help he still asks her what colored panties she’s wearing. But while the Carter character doesn’t start out all that likeable, by the end of the film, he does seem to come around on all counts.

Chan’s Lee character is more likeable. He really only wants to do the right thing, which is help find Soo Yung. He is able to combine his obvious martial art skills with good comedic timing in stunts that seem in the vein of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. He seems unafraid to put himself in dangerous situations for the sake of the film.

He is a fish out of water and his knowledge of American culture is, at least to Carter’s taste, several decades behind the times. Carter likes the Beach Boys and the song War by Edwin Starr, which charted in 1970, almost three decades before our story. Lee tries to fit in, copying Carter’s actions, but gets into trouble when he asks a black bartender the same question Carter had, “Whassup, my nigga?”

For a comedy, I honestly can’t remember too many laugh out loud moments. Also, there is a lot of shooting and explosions, which are very suited to the cop drama it is at its core. It’s not that I didn’t like the film, but I don’t think it’s a great comedy.

Still, Rush Hour is a fun film to watch and, if you’re in the right mood, one I could recommend. If you’re, like me, unfamiliar with much of the work of Jackie Chan, then this is an Americanized introduction. If you want to watch some of his martial art films, then you’re on your own.

I’m not sure of how much of a rush, pardon the pun, I’m in to see the two sequels or the television series based on the film, which is, from what I understand, an episodic retelling of the film. Sometimes Hollywood doesn’t know how to leave a good idea alone.

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