Jackie Chan finally hit it big in Hollywood with 1998’s “Rush Hour”. The chemistry between Jackie and comedian Chris Tucker made the film an instant hit with audiences around the world, and there’s just no arguing with $244 million earned worldwide – “Rush Hour 2” was inevitable, and finally arrived in 2001. Although not quite as strong as the original, Jackie’s daredevil stunt work and a phenomenal performance by Zhang Ziyi as the primary adversary of our two heroes, there’s still plenty to like, and laugh at, in the sequel.
Jackie Chan returns to the role of Lee, a workaholic cop with powerful kung fu skills and a steadfast dedication to protecting and serving the people of Hong Kong. Chris Tucker is back as his American buddy and fellow cop Detective James Carter, still willing to cut corners where Lee never would and perpetually spouting his dialogue at approximately three times the speed of sound. John Lone portrays the shadowy villain Ricky Tan who may have a connection to the murder of Lee’s father, but he mostly leaves the dirty work to his right-hand woman Hu Li, played by Zhang Ziyi. Rounding out the cast is Roselyn Sanchez in the role of U.S. Secret Service Agent Isabella Molina, who may or may not be on the side of our two heroes.
Shortly after the events of the previous film, LAPD Detective James Carter is vacationing in Hong Kong with his friend, Chief Inspector Lee. Their respite is a short-live one, however, after an explosion at Hong Kong’s American Embassy kills two U.S. customs agents. The bombing is believed to be the work of the Triads after the two customs agents had been closing in on their money laundering operation. Carter is annoyed, to say the least, at having his vacation interrupted by Lee’s case, until Lee reveals that the prime suspect behind the bombing is Ricky Tan, a former Hong Kong cop and now a powerful Triad leader. Making it even more personal for Lee is Tan’s as-yet-unsubstantiated connection to the death of Lee’s father, who had been Tan’s partner in the Hong Kong police force.
Like the first film, “Rush Hour 2” is a comedy first and an action film second, and there’s definitely plenty to laugh at here. A lot of the humor comes from just the culture shock of Carter and his irrepressible American personality being in Hong Kong, and his spectacularly failed attempts at speaking Cantonese coherently. Easily the funniest scene in the film comes when Carter and Lee enter a Triad bar, where Carter gives his energetic rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. Scenes like this are what made the first film as laugh-out-loud funny as it was, and it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more such gags here. Carter makes a great comic foil to Lee because of their radically different personalities, but a little bit of him goes a long way. Apparently since Chris Tucker’s performance in the first “Rush Hour” connected with audiences so well, the sequel takes the approach of carpet-bombing the viewer with James Carter’s motor-mouthed antics. The results are more of a mixed bag than the first go around. His aforementioned karaoke scene is absolutely hysterical, but you really have to feel sorry for the poor dealer at a craps table who gets accused of racism on the grounds that he gave Carter $500 instead of $1000 chips. To be fair, Carter’s only doing this to give Lee a distraction to uncover the villains in the casino, but then couldn’t he have just grabbed the nearest microphone and given his rendition of “Billie Jean”?
While the comedy in this sequel is much more hit and miss than the first, the action is decidedly on par with the original. At this point, Jackie was 47 and had just about run out of body parts to break, bruise, burn, rupture, dislocate, or otherwise damage, and does that slow him down? Not at all! Directly following the scene in the karaoke bar, Lee and Carter chase a Triad gang up a building, with Lee literally fighting his way up the bamboo scaffolding as if it were the first level of a video game. Of course, Jackie’s always had a propensity for going out of his way to make the villain look far more formidable than him, and Zhang Ziyi, just coming off of the international acclaim of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”, in the role of Hu Li is the latest in a long-line of seemingly insurmountable bad guys he’s had to overcome. Zhang’s performance as the nearly unstoppable Hu Li is reminiscent of Jet Li’s stateside debut as Wah Sing-ku in “Lethal Weapon 4” – getting out maybe one or two lines in English and laying waste to our heroes every time they cross paths (side note – a cross over where Wah Sing-ku and Hu Li face off! You know you want to see that!) It’s testimony to how comfortable Zhang is in her role that the best fight sequence in the film doesn’t even involve Jackie, instead pitting her against Tucker. Carter had previously lent Lee a hand against some Triad thugs in a massage parlor, so setting him up against the villainess of the film is actually a pretty solid payoff. Hu Li assaults him from every angle with a jian, and the best Carter can do is simply avoid getting filleted. In most martial arts films, the audience will probably feel cheated when an action scene doesn’t end with a decisive victor, but the resolution of Carter’s duel with Hu Li leads to one of the biggest laughs in the film, with just how…let’s say accidentally the victor emerges.
“Rush Hour 2” isn’t without its faults, but it’s a fun reunion with the buddy cop duo the world fell in love with in the original film. While Carter’s karaoke sequence never gets old, the humor overall has its up’s and down’s compared to the original, and the film returns our heroes to the U.S. from Hong Kong arguably sooner than it should have. However, the funny moments, when they come, are genuinely hilarious, Jackie is as nimble and spry as ever, and Zhang Ziyi makes for one of the best villains Jackie’s ever faced in an English-language film. Plus, Chris Tucker forgetting to set his cell-phone to vibrate leads to possibly the best outtake of Jackie’s career!
- In the scene where Carter attempts to invite some girls in Hong Kong out for a drink, offending them with his horrible Cantonese, one of them is played by a then-unknown Maggie Q.
- Chris Tucker didn’t know he was being filmed singing “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” in the karaoke bar. Being a big fan of Michael Jackson, he didn’t want to imitate him in the film, but would do so to entertain the cast and crew between takes. Director Brett Ratner filmed Tucker at the karaoke machine without Tucker’s knowledge.
- Some of the fake dollar bills used for the casino scenes, which read “In Dog We Trust”, eventually found their way to a few real casinos in Las Vegas.