International superstar Jackie Chan takes on a ruthless motorcycle gang and the mob in “Rumble in the Bronx,” the definitive action-adventure film that brings Hong Kong-style movie mayhem to the mean streets of America’s meanest neighborhood. “Rumble” is scheduled for U.S. theatrical release on January 12, 1996. When Hong Kong cop Jackie Chan comes to New York City to attend his uncle’s wedding, his plans include a little relaxation, sight-seeing and helping out around the family grocery store. But somebody forgot to tell him that the grocery store was located in the middle of the South Bronx. Caught in the middle of a crime war, Chan teaches the locals not to mess with a world-class daredevil and martial arts master who has more moves up his sleeve than a grand champion chess player.
With films like “Supercop” and “Project A,” Chan has become a pop-phenomenon who has given new meaning to the words “action hero.” A legend to his fans for his deathdefying stunts, he has also charmed critics, who have hailed him as the modern-day successor to silent-movie clowns like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
Now, riding high on the crest of interest in Hong Kong filmmaking, Chan brings his inimitable charm back to America in “Rumble in the Bronx.”
According to actordirector Sylvester Stallone, Chan has exerted a decisive influence on the action genre which is still Hollywood’s surest box-office staple: “Jackie has elongated a genre that has grown pretty stale,” Stallone told “Time.” “He’s infused films with humor and characterdriven story while giving audiences these extraordinary stunts that are unparalleled anywhere in the world.”
Scheduled for release by New Line Cinema on January 12, 1996, “Rumble in the Bronx” is a Golden Harvest Presentation. Directed by Stanley Tong, the film is the first to reunite Chan with the awardwinning director since their acclaimed collaboration on “Supercop.” Written by Edward Tang and Fibe Ma, the film is produced by Barbie Tung and coproduced by Roberta Chow. Leonard Ho serves as Executive Producer.
The Art and Magic of Jackie Chan
Although relatively unknown to American audiences, Jackie Chan is one of the world’s most popular and admired superstars. An inspiration to actors and a vital force in the evolution of action adventure films, he is single-handedly responsible for the current explosion of interest in Hong Kong filmmaking.
Chan’s “Police Story” in 1985 attracted the attention of then Chicago-based film critic Dave Kehr. Kehr prevailed upon Richard Roud to include “Police Story” in the New York Film Festival in 1987. John Woo’s 1986 “A Better Tomorrow” started the “Triad” genre. By autumn of 1987, Chan, Woo and Tsui Hark films were all included in North American film festivals. The “Los Angeles Times” described Jackie Chan as a “whirling dervish with a Beatles mop-top and an impish grin, a oneman Cirque du Soleil.”
He is “the last good guy, and arguably, the world’s bestloved movie star,” according to a recent “Time” magazine article. The article characterized him this way: “In American terms he’s a little Clint Eastwood (actordirector), a dash of Gene Kelly (imaginative choreographer), a bit of Jim Carrey (rubbery ham), and lot of silent-movie clowns: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.”
If “Rumble in the Bronx” is the latest expression of Chan’s long love affair with American movies, tributes like these bear witness to America’s ongoing love affair with Jackie Chan. His admirers include many Hollywood professionals who have drawn inspiration from him over the years.
According to actor-director Sylvester Stallone, Chan has exerted a decisive influence on the action genre which is still Hollywood’s surest box-office staple: “Jackie has elongated a genre that has grown pretty stale,” Stallone told “Time.” “He’s infused films with humor and characterdriven story while giving audiences these extraordinary stunts that are unparalleled anywhere in the world.”
Oscar-winning director Quentin Tarantino summed it up when he presented Jackie Chan with 1995’s MTV Lifetime Achievement Award: “It’s one of the achievements of my lifetime to honor one of my heroes of all time . . . When you watch a Jackie Chan movie, you want to be Jackie Chan. You want to run through the glass the way only he can. You want to fight 25 guys, lose only up till the last moment, and then take them all on the way only he can. “He is one of the best filmmakers the world has ever known. He is one of the greatest physical comedians since sound came into films. If I could be any actor, I would have the life Jackie Chan has,” Tarantino said.
Remarkably, international recognition of Chan’s talents has come in response to a career that has been resolutely homegrown. “Rumble” is only the fifth American film in a career spanning two decades, during which Chan has become Asia’s leading filmmaker by making films his way for his own adoring public in Asia’s lively, unruly film capitol, Hong Kong.
More than a phenomenon, Jackie Chan is a oneman industry. Jackie Chan Fan Clubs all over the world send pilgrims to the sets of his films, which he often writes, directs and produces, using equipment rented from companies he created to improve the technical quality of Hong Kong filmmaking. He was instrumental in forming a stunt professionals union, hiring men and women who belong to the Jackie Chan Stuntmen’s Association. In addition, he hires actors supplied by his own casting and model agency, Jackie’s Angels.
He embodies the cheerful entrepreneurial energy that has made Hong Kong the only international cinema that can compete on its home turf with Hollywood. But all that energy is expended towards improving his art, for Jackie Chan is the kind of filmmaker who lives and breathes film. Once you are making movies,” he told fans in Chicago, “it’s like a drug. You can’t not do it.”
The combination of humor and deathdefying stunts defines a style which Chan invented at the beginning of the Eighties, and carried to extravagant heights which American films are only now attempting. Los Angelesbased film writer Manohla Dargis notes: “Nearly a decade before James Cameron had actors hanging off flying machines in “True Lies” (courtesy of blue screens, mind you), Asia’s answer to Arnold was swinging off a hotair balloon in ‘The Armour of God.'”
A defier of death, Chan nearly lost his life when he took an unscheduled 45foot fall in “The Armour of God.” Among other close calls, he was sideswiped by a helicopter while hanging from a train in “Police Story 3.” A superb martial artist and acrobat, Chan has built his legend by putting his life on the line for his movies. The “New York Times” noted that “for more than twenty years (he) has refused to let a stuntman fill in for him during dangerous scenes.” Fans see the proof in the montage of outtakes, with the star singing in the background, which typically ends his films. Jackie Chan, in other words, is his own most amazing special effect.
More than a phenomenon, Jackie Chan is a oneman industry. Jackie Chan Fan Clubs all over the world send pilgrims to the sets of his films, which he often writes, directs and produces, using equipment rented from companies he created to improve the technical quality of Hong Kong filmmaking. He was instrumental in forming a stunt professionals union, hiring men and women who belong to the Jackie Chan Stuntmen’s Association.
Chan developed his persona as an antidote to the hardbreathing ferocity that had long been the trademark of Hong Kong action filmmaking. Playing his unequaled skills and authentic onscreen heroism for laughs, he has created the character of the little guy who gets through by sheer courage and determination, showing vulnerability in a genre loaded with trumpedup supermen.
Chan’s “everyman” persona harks back to the silent clown whose legacy he has brought into the Nineties. He is “perhaps the only performer working today,” notes critic David Kehr, “with the physical selfpossession — the sense of stylized movement and body control — that defined the great comedians of the silent era.” What Chan learned from Chaplin and Keaton was nothing less than “the universal language of film,” writes Richard Corliss. “Action and passion, humor and heart.” More than anything else, that understanding of the primal power of film has been the secret of his universal appeal. “I write each film with rhythm,” he told the “New York Times.” “I want the audience to feel like they’re dancing. When I make a fight scene, I’ll write the music first, and then make sure the sounds of punching, kicking and breathing come out like music. When I go into a theater to watch my films, I watch the audience, and if their bodies are moving like they’re sitting in a disco, I know I’ve succeeded.”
“Rumble in the Bronx”
Jackie Chan had the idea for “Rumble in the Bronx” when he first visited America to make “The Big Brawl” (1980). “After I did that picture,” he recalls, “I stayed to study English, and I got the idea for doing a story where I’d come to America as a student and tangle with a local gang. “But when I went home to Hong Kong and tried to sell the idea to my boss, he said, ‘You’re never on schedule, you run over budget, and they won’t let you do that in America.’ A few years later I saw ‘The Karate Kid,’ and it was seventy percent of my idea. I said to my boss, ‘That’s the story I wanted to do.” The experience taught him to trust his creative instincts. Now, 15 years later, he is fulfilling his dream and bringing his idea to the screen in “Rumble in the Bronx.”
“I had to change it a little from my original concept, “Chan says. After fifteen years I couldn’t be a student, so I made my character a Hong Kong cop on vacation.” Making Vancouver Look Like the Bronx While vacationing himself with his “Supercop” collaborators, director Stanley Tong and producer Barbie Tung, Chan developed the idea for the new film. Four months later, in midJune of 1994, “Rumble in the Bronx” went into production in Vancouver, which stood in for the Bronx until the conclusion of principal photography in October.
During visits to New York, Stanley Tong and art director Oliver Wong photographed locations which served as the basis for creating “South Bronx North” in Vancouver. The main set to be built was the twostory building housing the grocery store and upstairs living quarters of the hero’s family.
Jackie’s Uncle Bill (Bill Tung) sells the store to unsuspecting Elaine, played by Hong Kong film and recording star Anita Mui, who discovers too late that the neighborhood is infested with bikers who’ve been ripping the store off for years. Jackie’s efforts to help Elaine lead from bad to worse culminating in total destruction when the bikers decide to rip off diamonds stolen by the mob, and the store and its denizens get caught in the middle.
Stanley Tong explains: “Jackie felt that if the Mafia was going to retaliate, it had to be something really shocking. So he came up with this crazy idea that the mob chieftain, White Tiger, would pull the whole building down.” Constructed on the parking lot of the former Woodward’s Department Store, the building in question had to serve a dual purpose, as a realistic set and as an apocalyptic special effect. “Oliver Wong went to New York and saw what Chinatown supermarkets looked like,” says producer Barbie Tung. “Then special effects coordinators Al Benjamin and David Paller discussed in advance with the builder how they wanted the building to collapse when we were through with it.”
Tong, as is his custom, was operating the camera closest to the carnage when the building was pulled down. To assure that Tong would escape from the demolition unscathed, the Canadian stunt coordinator positioned him in a trolley so that his team could pull the director out as the elaborate set collapsed in a satisfying explosion of dust and geysering pipes.
The combination of humor and deathdefying stunts defines a style which Chan invented at the beginning of the Eighties, and carried to extravagant heights which American films are only now attempting. Los Angeles-based film writer Manohla Dargis notes: “Nearly a decade before James Cameron had actors hanging off flying machines in “True Lies” (courtesy of blue screens, mind you), Asia’s answer to Arnold was swinging off a hot-air balloon in ‘The Armour of God.'”
Like Chan, Tong began his career as a stuntman and later a stunt coordinator, a job which they shared on “Rumble in the Bronx.” Their common background has led to an unusually close working relationship, in which the director personally rehearses all the major stunts his star performs. When I work with Jackie,” says Tong, “I can’t just sit there and tell him what to do. If you want him to listen to you, you have to show him. So I try the stunt myself before we do the scene.” A Chilling Stunt . . . and Some Close Calls The most chilling stunt in “Rumble” comes when Jackie, trapped on a rooftop by pursuers, leaps to a balcony on an adjoining building — a drop of 40 feet to a threefoot target 26-feet away. “That’s a small target,” says Tong. “You really can’t even see where you’re aiming before you jump.” After trying the stunt himself with a cable harness, the director concluded that the leap wouldn’t look real, and might even be more dangerous if it were done that way. Instead, he had a 24-foot platform built on the second floor for the star to rehearse on, enabling him to calibrate the exact path he would have to run before leaping. The path was then marked with tape on the roof of the building, and Jackie Chan executed the blind leap with nothing but an airbag to cushion his fall if he missed and fell eight floors to the ground. Four cameras recorded the feat, executed flawlessly in one take, which permitted the filmmakers to show it three times from different angles in the finished film - a device Chan has used in many of his previous films. “For years I have shown scenes like that more than one time,” he says, “so the audience can see it’s not a special effect.”
Subtler risks were posed by the scene where Jackie is pinned against the wall of a blind alley while vengeful motorcycle gang members bat bottles at him that explode next to his head. This scene exemplifies another Jackie Chan tradition, the underdog hero. “My character has never been a superman,” says Chan. Anyone can beat me up. Even the girl can beat me up! So at the beginning of ‘Rumble,’ the audience sees that I know kung-fu, but when we get to the scene in the alley, I want to show the audience that kung-fu can’t beat guns.” Stanley Tong was grateful for the opportunity to direct a realistic scene involving gunwielding thugs. “It’s a problem I’ve often faced as a stunt coordinator,” he says. “Let’s see, the adversary is holding a gun — how do we knock it out of his hand? That’s pretty dumb, so to avoid the cliché, in this film we’ve devised lots of action scenes where Jackie doesn’t use kung-fu.”
Chan developed his “everyman” persona as an antidote to the hardbreathing ferocity that had long been the trademark of Hong Kong action filmmaking. Playing his unequaled skills and authentic on-screen heroism for laughs, he has created the character of the little guy who gets through by sheer courage and determination, showing vulnerability in a genre loaded with trumped-up supermen.
Plastic bottles, “candyglass” bottles and real bottles were used in the alley scene, but because of budget limitations only 40 of the exploding candy-glass variety were made, most of which got used up during the first day of shooting. As a result, some of the bottles exploding next to the star’s head were real! And as Stanley Tong points out, “Even if you get hit with one of the plastic bottles, you’ll faint. Jackie actually caught one of the real bottles in his stomach.” The scene posed a special challenge for Tong because the alley had to be infested with rats. We had rats with a trainer,” says Barbie Tung, “and Stanley hates rats. He always handles one camera for multiple-camera sequences, and in the alley scene he made sure he was on the camera set high on the wall, to get as far away from the rats as possible!”
Water Skiing — Without Skis
The scene in which Jackie, towed behind a stolen hovercraft, learns from necessity how to waterski without skis, posed a similar problem for Tong’s star. “Jackie hates to do anything on the water,” says the director, who got the idea for the scene from a televised demonstration of barefoot water skiing. “He gets seasick very easily!” Consultation with experts revealed that the stunt would be harder to do in shoes. A special pair of tennis shoes with smooth soles was used for shots done in rough water, to avoid churning up the water and hitting Chan’s legs. True to his practice, Tong tried the stunt himself first. “Jackie mastered the barefoot waterskiing in one day, but I couldn’t,” he confesses. “When I finished rehearsing the stunt, my legs were completely bruised. Anything I can do, pushing my own limit, he can do better!”
A Barrage of Broken Legs
Tong got the idea for the runaway hovercraft finale while visiting Australia at the invitation of the government to inspect local filmmaking facilities. But Hong Kong doesn’t have hovercrafts, so he filed the idea away until “Rumble in the Bronx” gave him the chance to use it. But in the shot where Chan had to jump from a bridge onto the narrow rim of the hovercraft, a combination of bad conditions and imperfect balance caused the star to break his right ankle. After one day off, he finished the film in a cast, working for 20 days till the end of shooting on the scenes where the hovercraft, with Jackie dangling from its side, wreaks havoc along Vancouver’s Pacific Boulevard, Drake Street and Homer Street. Not to be outdone, Stanley Tong sprained his ankle rehearsing the shot where Jackie climbs up the mast to jump down to the bridge. Both the star and the director finished the film on crutches. The Canadian stuntmen on “Rumble” were very quick to pick-up Hong Kong ways: Canadian actress Francoise Yip, who plays gang-girl Nancy, broke her leg during the scene where she races her motorcycle over the tops of a row of parked cars, and insisted on going back to work after being bandaged at the hospital. Two Canadian stuntwomen also broke their legs during the filming of the motorcycle rally.
The Canadians were challenged again in the big blowout when Jackie takes on the whole gang single-handed in a warehouse, a scene which took 20 days to film. The whirlwind sequence of one-on-one combats, in which Jackie uses every form of American consumer goods he can lay his hands on as a weapon, required the Canadian members of the stunt crew to learn how to stage a fight scene Hong Kong-style. “They are very good,” says Chan. They can do all sorts of stunts — parachute jumps and things like that — but for that kind of fighting action, I had to show them how to do it. My strength is that I use everything: sofas, chairs, refrigerators, ladders, skis, bottles, skateboards. Everything.” “They were angels,” says Barbie Tung of the Canadian crew members — the first union crew in North America to work on a Hong Kong-produced film. “Rumble in the Bronx”, explains Jackie Chan, would have been impossible to make in Hong Kong: “It’s hard to make a big movie in Hong Kong, because the government isn’t so supportive of movies. That’s why for years I’ve been making my movies in Morocco, Yugoslavia — everywhere except Hong Kong. “How could I do a movie like ‘Rumble in the Bronx’ there? They won’t even let me drive my car on the street! They’d never let me drive a hovercraft! But in Vancouver, they were very supportive — the police would block off the whole street while we were shooting. And if the result is that this film is a success in America, I have the Hong Kong government to thank for it!” But Jackie Chan has “the Hong Kong way” in his blood, much like the hero of “Rumble,” who tells his uncle at the beginning that he would never dream of remaining in New York. “But I think,” Chan adds, after a moment of reflection, “that for ‘Rumble in the Bronx 2,’ he’ll come back!”
ABOUT JACKIE CHAN,
THE MAGICIAN OF MOTION
Jackie Chan had to fight to impose his inimitable style, as he has had to fight throughout a life that began, like the lives of his silent-era mentors, in the school of hard knocks. Indentured at age seven to the Chinese Opera Research School, he learned through ten years of 19-hour days — punctuated with the traditional canings – the rigorous discipline of the Peking Opera, which encompasses acting, singing, dance, mime acrobatics and a variety of martial arts.
Upon graduation at age 17, he went to work as an extra and eventually as a stuntman in the Shaw Brothers studios. Two years later, his training and determination paid off with a promotion to stunt coordinator, which led to a Busby Berkley-style discovery scene: Watching Chan direct stuntmen in the finer points of fighting and dying, a producer spotted his talent and gave him his first role as an adult performer in “Little Tiger from Canton” (1971). After five years of films which afforded little scope for his real abilities, the fledgling actor began to develop his craft in earnest working for producer Lo Wei, a former Bruce Lee collaborator for whom he made nine pictures over the next three years. Taking advantage of a contract director’s inexperience with martial arts, Chan began making suggestions about how action scenes should be played, and soon was allowed to be stunt coordinator on his own films. The films, however, remained mired in the traditions of high-flying swordplay and blood-and-thunder intensity which he was trying to escape.
A martial arts parody, “Half a Loaf of Kung Fu,” tossed off in 1978 (and withheld from release for two years) gave the first inklings of the direction his career would take. But it was only when Lo Wei loaned him to independent producer Ng See Yuen for two pictures that same year, “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” and “Drunken Master,” that Chan was given the freedom to create the genre of kung-fu comedy, which transformed the Hong Kong film industry. The films made money, and by the time he made his last film for Lo Wei, “The Fearless Hyena” (1979), Chan was able to give full rein to his creativity, creating a chopsticks foodfighting sequence that became an instant classic.
In 1980, Jackie Chan directed his second film, “The Young Master,” quickly demonstrating the perfectionism that would drive him to transform the standards of Hong Kong filmmaking in a fanfighting sequence which demanded a record 329 takes to get one trick right! That film also inaugurated his long association with producer Raymond Chow, who made all of Chan’s subsequent films. After the runaway success of “The Young Master,” Chow brought Chan to the U.S. to star in “The Big Brawl,” and as a guest star opposite the likes of Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore and Farrah Fawcett in “The Cannonball Run.” With limited success in America, Chan returned home determined to improve Hong Kong filmmaking. “I knew kung-fu was dead,” he later told writer David Chute, “and about that time I saw a lot of Buster Keaton’s films. He gave me a lot of new ideas, new things I could do that were physical, and funny, but were not fighting.” The first film to show his new comic shift was the Chandirected “Project A” (1983), a period action-comedy which ends with Chan’s high-risk reenactment of silent-comedian Harold Lloyd’s clockface finale in “Safety Last.” Chan returned to the U.S. twice as an actor in “Cannonball Run 2” and “The Protector” before the actor-director was honored in 1987 by the New York Film Festival’s selection of his 1985 “Police Story.” The film featured one of his most dangerous stunts, a slide down a pole decorated with live Christmas lights.
Chan’s direction of the sequels to “Project A,” “Police Story” and 1986’s lavish “The Armour of God” was acclaimed by American critics increasingly enamored of Hong Kong cinema. Noting his assurance as a director, “Time’s” critic described “Miracles” (1989) as “a kind of remake of Frank Capra’s ‘Lady for a Day’ (which) revels in supple tracking shots, elegant montages and a witty use of the wide screen.”
The conquest of America by Hong Kong’s action cinema, led by Chan and gifted colleagues like director John Woo and Tsui Hark, was now in full swing. “Police Story 3: Supercop,” his first collaboration with Stanley Tong, prompted the “L.A. Times'” Kevin Thomas to observe: “Chan, director Stanley Tong and their cast and crew recall what Hollywood has largely forgotten: how to make pure escapist entertainment that’s fast, light, topical, but unpretentious.” The same could be said of “Crime Story” (1993), a police melodrama directed by Kirk Wong which reveals Chan’s talent as a serious actor. Based on an actual extortion case, “Crime Story” deftly exposes the entrepreneurial excesses of Hong Kong in the Eighties and sketches the complex relations between Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China as the 1997 end of the British Protectorate approaches. Ever concerned to put Chinese-language cinema in the forefront of world film production, Jackie Chan, through his company, Golden Way Films, has produced two highly-acclaimed films by Stanley Kwan, “Rouge,” and “Actress.” He is also the president of the Hong Kong equivalent of the Directors’ Guild.
Chan has been vocal and active in his opposition to organized crime’s infiltration of the entertainment industry. His unique position in the Hong Kong movie industry, according to a recent “New Yorker” article, gives him the independence which has enabled him to take an outspoken and courageous stance on these issues. Tirelessly involved in a number of charities, he founded the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation in 1987 to provide a continuing source of funding for a wide range of projects from hospitals to scholarships. “Rumble in the Bronx,” which re-teams Jackie Chan with Stanley Tong, is the first film Chan has made in North America since achieving recognition as a filmmaker in his own right. It also marks the beginning of a deal between Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema for first negotiation rights to the next two Jackie Chan films, augmenting an ongoing collaboration between Hong Kong’s most powerful filmmaker and America’s leading independent. Since completing “Rumble in the Bronx”, Chan has starred in “Thunderbolt,” a film about car-racing which is, at $20 million, the most expensive movie ever made in Hong Kong. He and his “Rumble” collaborators, Stanley Tong and Barbie Tong, are currently preparing an untitled film about the CIA, which will begin shooting this year on three continents, in Russia, the Ukraine, Australia and New York City.
This article by John Corcoran was published in a 1996 issue of Kung Fu magazine.
Courtesy of Jennifer Hoxie-Lowe, New Line Cinema