Because it marks Jackie Chan's first meaningful foray into the American film scene, Rumble in the Bronx is a Chan film you're actually going to find at your local video rental outlet. Unfortunately, you're probably going to be limited to the pan & scan version, which is a shame, because the visuals are the real treat here. If you can find the widescreen print, by all means rent it instead. Or even better, buy it.
Our standard line about Chan films is that the plot (and we use that term loosely, especially in his more recent films) exists solely to move Jackie's character from one amazing fight scene to another. Without Chan's physical prowess and willingness to try anything in order to entertain his audience, the film simply wouldn't exist. Never has this fact been more evident than in Rumble in the Bronx.
The story is this: Keung (Chan) arrives in New York to attend his uncle's wedding. Uncle Bill (Bill Tung, who has played some variation on 'Uncle Bill' in most Chan films from 1986 on) also recruits Keung to help with the sale of the family business, a corner grocery store in the Bronx. Although Uncle Bill leaves on his honeymoon, Keung sticks around to help Elaine, the new owner of the market.
Soon, however, Keung runs afoul of the neighborhood biker gang. Although he quickly runs them out of the market when they try to shoplift, they target him later in the film and give him a brutal beating. Things only get worse when he starts dating the gang-leader's girlfriend, Nancy (Francoise Yip), and then one of the gang members steals some already-stolen diamonds from the local organized crime syndicate.
We should probably point out that, despite the title, Rumble in the Bronx does not take place in any Bronx that exists in New York City. Or on the planet Earth, for that matter. All of the scenes in New York City take place in some weird alternate version of New York, where we get to see what the Chinese think America is like. In the Chinese version of America, hippies ride around in trucks full of beach balls, and multi-ethnic gangs roam the streets in dune buggies festooned with lights. The entirety of Rumble (except for a few shots of the Manhattan skyline) was actually shot in Vancouver, which would explain the majestic mountains that we occasionally see surrounding the Bronx. Of course, the Bronx is an undefined geographic area, so it's technically possible that it extends all the way from New York City to Vancouver, but it's probably just safer to assume that the filmmakers were just counting on the fact that Asian audiences wouldn't know enough about American geography to tell the difference.
Anita Mui as Elaine.
Although the general tone of Rumble in the Bronx is lighthearted, there are a number of seriously violent scenes. In one such scene, Keung is used as a human target for high-velocity liquor bottles and ends up a bloody mess at the end of an alley. In another (and this was a year before Fargo), the suit-and-tie diamond gangsters feed one of the neighborhood gang members into a wood chipper. Against the goofy backdrop of the rest of the movie, these sequences stand out, perhaps justifying the R rating this film received.
Other memorable portions of Rumble include the ongoing saga of the market. Elaine (Anita Mui, who played Wonder Woman in Heroic Trio) is ritually victimized at the market because the various gangsters mistake Keung as the market's owner. Every time something happens to the store, the dowdy Elaine rebuilds and re-opens, only to be slapped down again. Amazingly, it seems that in the original HK version of the film, the store is destroyed and rebuilt one more time than in the US version. Talk about someone failing to get a hint! By the end of the film, we expected her to don her Wonder Woman mask and start kicking some serious butt. Alas, there is no such scene.
Perhaps the greatest drawback to Rumble is that even by the standards of a Jackie Chan film, the plot is weak. Jackie spends half of the movie fighting the bizarre biker gang, and then, with almost no warning, everybody realizes that the Mafia guys are the real bad guys. Rumble also is a little strange in that it doesn't have a climatic fight at the end of the film, though this is probably because Jackie hurt his ankle jumping off a bridge.
True action junkies, however, won't care about such weaknesses, because the stunts are some of Jackie's best. There's a leap from a parking garage onto the fire escape of a building across the street that will make your eyes bug out, and Chan's unusual choice of weapons (a snow ski, refrigerator doors, a motorcycle helmet) never disappoints. And did we mention the hovercraft? It was written in at the last moment when the crew found out that one was available.
All in all, Rumble in the Bronx was the perfect choice for Chan's breakthrough into the American market: it (supposedly) takes place on ground familiar to U.S. audiences, features some of Chan's most impressive stunts, and does a great job of portraying him as a lovable nice guy with the best of intentions.