Blu-ray Review: Rush Hour (1998)

Now Available to Own 

In the mid '90s, the stateside cult success of Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx and the superlative Supercop (aka Police Story 3) expanded the comedic martial artist's fan base from beyond the realm of schoolyard Kung Fu enthusiasts who shared bootleg VHS tapes and compared fight scenes the way some kids traded baseball cards and obsessed over comic books.

Therefore, it was only a matter of time before Chan starred in his first English language Hollywood crossover hit with Brett Ratner's 1998 Rush Hour, which packed 'em in their seats with greater urgency than the imported, butchered and badly dubbed cuts of Hong Kong prints had years earlier.

For although roughly a decade later, Chan dismissed his Hollywood work by stating that he disliked the inaccessible overly Americanized humor and action of the Rush Hour trilogy co-starring funny man Chris Tucker, luckily for New Line Cinema, nearly a hundred and fifty million dollars worth of ticket-buyers disagreed -- making Rush one of the biggest hits of the year.

At its essence, Ratner's movie is a spirited twist on two tried and true formulas of a) the buddy cop comedy and b) fish-out-of-water culture clash pictures.  

Rush Hour finds Chan's Hong Kong Police Detective Inspector Lee journeying to Los Angeles to search for his recently kidnapped former martial arts pupil Soo Yung (Julia Hsu) -- the preteen daughter Chinese Consul Han (Tzi Ma) -- who was abducted en route to her first day of school.

Fearful that if something happened to Lee on American soil that the FBI would have an international scandal on their hands, they pawn off an assignment to babysit Lee to the LAPD. In turn the LAPD Captain Diel (Philip Baker Hall) passes the order along to Chris Tucker's Officer James Carter, whom Diel was otherwise prepared to suspend from the force for a costly undercover snafu that took out half a downtown block with C4.

Before he eventually figures out that he's on tour guide duty to distract Lee from the case, the Captain amusingly plays on chatterbox Carter's arrogance and delusion of grandeur, selling the gig hook, line and sinker to Carter who -- by accepting the bait -- thinks he's somehow been transferred to a prominent post with the FBI.

And it's this Eddie Murphy-esque Beverly Hills Cop style turn of events that Chris Tucker milks for all it's worth. In fact, Tucker generates far more laughs than one imagines were found in the formulaic script -- first and foremost because of his willingness to play against the type of buddy cop character we traditionally see onscreen -- as in comparison to the affable yet dim Carter, Murphy's admittedly brighter Axel Foley seems like he could've founded Mensa.

Yet it's all in good fun; Tucker's penchant for the risk-taking reliance of shoot-from-the-mouth first and figure out if it made sense later beautifully compliments Chan's physical, silent comedian inspired approach.

Rather limited in his grasp of the English language (note: the subtitle feature comes in quite handy), once again, Chan charms us with innovation by drawing as much from greats like Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as he does from his own jaw-dropping martial arts background, using everyday objects as weapons and executing his own death defying stunts.

Yes, when evaluated next to Ratner's trilogy, the Shanghai Noon and Knights series garnered greater critical claim (see: Rotten Tomatoes), perhaps because Chan's collaborations with Owen Wilson freely blended genres and historical humor into an ingenious concoction that proved more creatively refreshing than the cop route.

Nonetheless, in stark contrast to some of Chan's solo vehicles that followed in his rise to international super-stardom, the original Rush Hour remains compulsively watchable to this day.

Likewise, Rush is augmented by a top-notch supporting cast of characters wherein we're treated with two new spins on female roles including Soo Yung's feisty anti child damsel in distress and Carter's bomb-squad expert-in-training cop colleague, Elizabeth Pena, both of whom are a far cry to 2 and 3's masseuses and showgirls.

Released in time for the holidays in a crisp Warner Brothers Blu-ray -- while the picture is on par with the version I saw twelve years ago in the theater, I was particularly blown away by the explosive high definition sound that comes pouring out of all speakers, thereby making us better appreciate Tucker's verbal rhythms and Chan's melodic martial arts.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.