Choice Chan

Rumble, the movie Chan's chosen to try to break his way into the States, is already a proven success; it was released a year ago in Hong Kong to huge response. It seems a logical choice for other reasons as well: it has a U.S. setting (or supposed U.S. setting; it was actually filmed in Vancouver, Canada, which ends up giving New York City some curiously scenic backdrops); a good amount of the dialogue was already in English; and there's a high percentage of Anglo actors, which might make the average American moviegoer find the experience less foreign. The Rumble brought to the U.S. has also been fine-tuned to help cater to the general American audience. In a nutshell, the differences between the U.S. version and the original are all post-production changes. Stock shots of New York have been added, the film was trimmed by about 30 minutes to tighten up the plot and a new musical score was added. The shortened version has lost some scenes that dragged in the original, but strangely enough, it's also lost some of the action. Too, many of the Chinese cultural elements are gone.

But the biggest difference between the two versions is the fact that almost all the Chinese dialogue has been dubbed in English. Unfortunately, the Chinese cast's lips don't move anywhere near in sync with the English dialogue, which may produce some unintended titters from the audience. Chan dubs his own voice, which is a mixed blessing; you can hear the real man, but it has to be said that his English isn't that good. And a fair amount of the dialogue has been changed or deleted altogether, in keeping with the film's tighter plot.

While that last change might seem like something that would get Chan's cult following up in arms, this version isn't really meant for them, or the Chinese population in America, for that matter. (Anyway, many of those fans have already seen the original version at local Hong Kong theaters -- Houston has one, the Diho Theatre on Bellaire Boulevard -- or on a video from an Asian video store. But before you decide to go to one of these stores to check out Chan as the Asian audience has grown to love him, remember that the Hong Kong Rumble isn't subtitled. So, to steal a funny line that was cut from the Rumble now available in U.S. theaters, you'd better know your Chinese.)

Still, for all the cuts and alterations, the U.S. Rumble is pretty much like the Hong Kong Rumble. The plot (to the degree it matters in a Chan film) is basically the same: Chan's character, Keung (which translates as "strong") visits New York for his uncle's wedding, helps out the new owner of his uncle's supermarket, tangles with a street gang that terrorizes the store and, when the mob gets thrown into the mix via a botched diamond heist, takes care of them as well. And the stunts -- the things that really define a Jackie Chan movie -- remain, including not only the fight scenes but an astonishing (and real) leap from one building to another and an extended concluding sequence featuring a runaway hovercraft, and Chan water-skiing without the benefit of skis, that has to be seen to be believed.

Nobody does it quite like Chan. Hollywood's special effects can make almost anything look real, but what Chan does is real (as painful outtakes of stunts gone awry, shown just before the credits roll, make clear). He is, in many ways, the greatest action hero and physical comedian of all time. Cultural differences and language barriers may prevent American audiences from experiencing the whole picture when it comes to Chan, but even the partial picture is intriguing. And it's a picture Americans may soon see more of. In its first weekend, Rumble pulled in more than $10 million at the U.S. box office. As a result, Chan's distribution company is lining up other Chan movies (he's already made two more since Rumble) for U.S. consumption. It's a mixed blessing. Chan may well get the U.S. audience he's been after, and U.S. audiences will be able to see better Chan than Rumble (which, though engaging enough, isn't his best). But the U.S. success also means that the longer, and sometimes better, Chinese versions of his films that Chan fans have sought out at specialty theaters will be pulled, to avoid confusion and competition with the English language release.

Oh, the Chinese Chan won't be completely gone -- film piracy is endemic in Hong Kong, and not all Chinese theaters in the U.S. are too concerned with the provenance of the film reels delivered to them -- but it will be harder to find. Maybe in the best of worlds we can hope that U.S. audiences pick up on what Asian audiences have long known, and the Chan we do end up seeing in America won't be Chan lite, but Chan right.

Rumble in the Bronx.
Directed by Stanley Tong. With Jackie Chan and Anita Mui.
Rated R.
90 minutes.

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