Rush Hour

Rush Hour. New Line Cinema 1999.

Before watching the movie:

My perception of this movie isn’t even a poster’s worth. Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker (though apparently he occupies the same space in my head as Kevin Hart) do action cop stuff. I’m not sure the posters really say more than that they’re the stars of the movie, and somehow I expect posters to have a sliver more of the setting than that.

I’m always interested in more Jackie Chan movies, and buddy cop action comedies are usually fun, so I guess the only reason I never got around to this is that I don’t have anything else to go on beyond that. I would’ve thought I’d hear something about why the title is significant other than the city traffic.

After watching the movie:

At the end of British control of Hong Kong, Detective Inspector Lee makes a big bust on crime lord Juntao’s drugs, stolen art, and cash. Not long after, his friend Chinese consul Han is moved from Hong Kong to the Los Angeles consulate, where his daughter is kidnapped for ransom. While the FBI assures him they’re putting their best men on it, Han insists on having his own best man involved and flies in Lee. Both resentful and hoping to keep this foreigner from creating an international incident, the FBI leads scheme to have Lee kept out of the way by a local handler, but rather than subject one of their own to that indignity, they decide to request a loaned officer from the LAPD, which is only too happy to get rid of loose cannon loner James Carter for a while. Insulted to be put on babysitting duty, Carter is also surprised at how difficult it is to actually keep Lee in check, and eventually they begrudgingly agree to work together to investigate the case, tracing the kidnapping to an underground explosives ring and to Juntao’s personal revenge.

I feel like I’m expected to have a strong sense of Los Angeles in this movie, but I’ve seen plenty of other movies that convey LA culture better. I also suspect that the title just comes from LA traffic jams, which we only actually see in an early scene when Han’s daughter is being driven to school and sitting in standstill traffic on the highway. I’m not sure if it would feel more LA if I was more familiar with LA, but it kind of comes off like claiming a lot of things that many cities have as uniquely LA thing.

There are perhaps not many of Jackie Chan’s American movies that have a more organic reason for him to be a Chinese guy coming to the US (short of movies like The Tuxedo where he starts as just a regular guy who immigrated a while back for unspecified, mundane reasons). There’s also a great sense that he’s just a fighting expert in real world situations that aren’t always within the training. The fights and stunts are organic and surprising and occasionally funny, but don’t get stale. This is probably one of the best Jackie Chan choreographies, at least in the west.

Lee doesn’t really have a character arc beyond learning to trust Carter, which is informed heavily by Carter growing into someone he can trust. As a police officer Lee is uncannily competent, but he’s also very human in his interactions with Carter and has his share of fish out of water gags. Carter’s arc comes with a whole extra character attached. Det. Johnson wants to be his partner, but not only does he refuse to have any partner, he also only values her as a potential date. Eventually Carter comes to recognize that he does need help, and in the finale she’s a full member of the team, but I never really feel her presence in the movie as much more than a plot device. I’m sure she’s completely forgotten in the sequels.

This movie was a lot of fun. It hit all the right beats and still kept it fresh. I can see why it got many sequels, since the dynamic seems easy to spin out into more stories. The plot serves, but the point is the ride we get to go on with these two characters, and that ride is a blast.

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