There's a man who puts Van Damme and Seagal to shame, and he's done so for years and years, albeit it on the thankless medium of video. He's funny, he fights like no-one you've ever seen before, he sings his own theme songs, he directs most of his own movies and he always, always does his own stunts. He's Jackie Chan, and we love him.
As a film, Rumble In The Bronx is no English Patient beater. Most of the principal cast have been unconvincingly dubbed, the funny bits fall flatter than a kyboshed Chan opponent, and the sentimental sloshiness will make you barf. But martial arts films' priorities are different from those of your usual movie. Kung-fu films are more akin to porn flicks than flash Hollywood action bonanzas, in that their shared concern is to record the action. Obviously, the skill with which the movie is shot determines how good the end product is, but it's the actual, ahem, cut and thrust that counts, rendering any explanations or attempts to link scenes largely superfluous. And so it is with Rumble In The Bronx. In the Pacific Rim, Chan's regarded as a pop star, gifted director and major heart-throb cutie to millions of girls. Which is why it's understandable (if not entirely forgivable) that much of the flick is devoted to Jackie poncing around being smoochy, caring and/or kooky. He shows off his rock-hard biceps, looks after the crippled child next door and gets to snog a stunning gang girl. Gak.
However, Western fans of Chan's films will know that what really counts is, in reverse order, out-takes, vehicles, stunts and fight scenes. This time round, the stuff that didn't make it into the main feature shows plenty of genuine on-set injuries, which are always fascinating. Vehicle scenes include a brilliant motorbike race over parked cars and a boring hovercraft finale (although as a bonus, you can clearly see Chan's ankle snap as he leaps onto it). Then there are the stunts. How does a 40-foot drop across a 26-foot-wide alleyway onto a three-foot- square fire escape grab you? One take, right first time...
And the fight sequences - woah. It's not just that Chan can get in four punches or blocks for the average dumb American martial artist's one, but that he always looks about two seconds away from getting a total pasting. Fuelled by this always-impending defeat, his fights look all the more raw and desperate, despite being choreographed to perfection. Here the rumble in a market is just a warm-up to the main event in the gang HQ. This starts off with a brilliant one-on-one fight staged entirely on a pool table. After that, it's a free-ranging battle around the warehouse, with the beleaguered Chan using everything from skis to fridges to pinball tables for one purpose: the infliction of maximum painage on all-comers. In fact, if there's a single grinding complaint about the movie, it's that it doesn't climax with a big fist fight.
The inexpertly dubbed dialogue, the cheesy caring stuff and the totally average story are exactly the sorts of things Chan movies have been forgiven for in the past - and can be forgiven for again. Why? Because, in an age of sneaky post-production sfx, his output is testament to what's possible with a lot of dedication, skill and pain. And that's why we love him.
Unmissable if you're a Chan devotee, Rumble's fight scenes and amiable characters should at least prove interesting to a wider market; they certainly show the world what wusses Western heroes are. 10 out of 10 for action; much more modest scoring for the rest of it.