Released in U.S. theaters in 1996, Rumble in the Bronx was the film that introduced American audiences to kung fu legend Jackie Chan. Though the 41-year-old had already been an international superstar for decades, until Rumble in the Bronx, Chan had struggled to make a real splash in the United States. The film, which is full of Chan’s trademark blend of comedy and kung fu, tells the story of a regular guy named Keung (Chan) who comes to the Bronx for his uncle’s wedding and somehow, within hours of his arrival, manages to get mixed up with a local motorcycle gang and a group of diamond thieves. Like many of Chan’s best movies, Rumble in the Bronx is light on plot and packed with beautifully choreographed fights and genuinely dangerous stunts. Here are 13 things you might not have known about Rumble in the Bronx.
1. IT WAS FILMED IN VANCOUVER.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of New York City can see that Rumble in the Bronx wasn’t filmed in the Bronx. The buildings are different, the license plates on the cars all wrong, and, of course, there are forest-covered mountains in the background of many shots. But while some viewers were upset that the setting for the film was so clearly fake (“When I spend money to go to a movie called Rumble in the Bronx, I expect the movie to have been filmed in the Bronx—or at least look like it takes place in the Bronx,” Bill Wallace of Black Belt Magazine wrote in 1996), Chan told his biographer that he thinks sticklers for realism are missing the point.
“Because of production concerns, Vancouver doubled as the Bronx," Chan explained in I Am Jackie Chan. "And yes, I know there are no mountains in New York City! At first we tried to maintain the illusion, avoiding shooting angles that would show the mountains. We even hired people to paint the graffiti on the walls. But then we had to paint over it all at the end of the day. In the end, I decided to forget about trying to simulate New York, figuring that people shouldn’t be watching the scenery so much as the action anyway.”
2. JACKIE CHAN WANTED IT TO BE HIS BREAKOUT AMERICAN FILM.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, success came easily to Chan in Asia, where his movies were consistently box office hits. But America was a completely different story. Rumble in the Bronx marked his fourth attempt to break into Hollywood. Previously he’d starred in Robert Clouse’s Battle Creek Brawl (1980) and appeared in The Cannonball Run (1981) and The Protector (1985). But none of those films made much of an impact for Chan. For Rumble in the Bronx, he decided it was time to take things into his own hands: Instead of looking for the right role in a big-budget Hollywood film, he decided to make a Hong Kong film that could work as a cross-over hit.
3. THE FILM WAS SET IN THE BRONX TO MAKE IT MORE ACCESSIBLE TO A WESTERN AUDIENCE.
When it comes down to it, most of Jackie Chan’s films are about one thing: Jackie Chan. It doesn’t matter if he’s fighting assassins in Qing Dynasty China or gang members in the Bronx, just as long as the movie showcases his skills. In the 1990s, Chan recognized that, and decided the best way to make his next film an American success was to employ the formula that made his Hong Kong films so popular, but change the setting to a familiar American locale.
“In Rumble, [director] Stanley Tong and I took the idea of making an ‘international’ Hong Kong film—one that would be as accessible to Western audiences as for Eastern ones—as far as it could go ... The setting of Rumble was completely Western. The villains and background characters were all non-Asian. And much of the dialogue was in English,” Chan said in I Am Jackie Chan. “From the very beginning, [executive producers] Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho believed that Rumble would be my ticket West. They were on the verge of selling a package of my earlier films to U.S. distributors. A movie set in America would seal the deal—and make a terrific lead-in for a return to Hollywood … My way. And that’s why, rather than Showdown in Macau or Gang War in Kowloon, my second film with Stanley Tong became Rumble in the Bronx.”
4. IT WAS THE BIGGEST MOVIE IN AMERICA DURING ITS OPENING WEEKEND.
Opening on 1736 screens in North America, Rumble in the Bronx was the number one movie in America in its opening weekend. The film also broke box office records in Hong Kong.
5. CHAN WAS IN A WHEELCHAIR BY THE END OF THE SHOOT.
Toward the end of the film’s shoot, Chan broke his ankle attempting to jump from a pier onto a moving hovercraft. After returning from the hospital, Chan continued shooting the film, wearing a sock painted to look like a sneaker over his cast. Both Chan's ill-fated jump and his sneaker-sock can be seen in the outtakes that play during the movie’s credits.
In addition to filming in a cast, Chan also shot some of his chase scenes directly from his wheelchair. In an interview with Conan O’Brien, Chan explained that, for close-ups, he’d pretend to be running, but in reality, his arms would be moving, and he’d be pushing himself along, kneeling on his wheelchair.
6. CHAN MADE THE FILM WITH MANY OF HIS REGULAR COLLABORATORS.
Chan has been working with the same team of filmmakers for much of his career: Bill Tung, who plays Uncle Bill in Rumble in the Bronx also appears repeatedly in the Police Story series, while Sammo Hung, who was an uncredited stunt coordinator on Rumble in the Bronx—and has had a range of onscreen and behind-the-scenes roles in Chan’s movies—started out as a classmate of Chan’s at the Peking Opera School when the two were kids. Director Stanley Tong has also worked with Jackie Chan on five other films, including the upcoming Kung-Fu Yoga, set to premiere in 2017.
7. DIRECTOR STANLEY TONG’S ONLY ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILM WAS MR. MAGOO.
Shortly after the success of Rumble in the Bronx, Tong made his first—and to this day, only—English-language film, directing the live-action adaptation of Mr. Magoo. Produced by Disney, and released in 1997, the film starred Leslie Nielsen (of Airplane and Naked Gun fame) as the eponymous, nearsighted Magoo.
8. CHAN DECIDED TO MAKE RUMBLE IN THE BRONX AFTER TURNING DOWN A ROLE IN DEMOLITION MAN.
Before he decided to make Rumble in the Bronx, Chan was hoping to find his breakout role in an American movie. He was friends with Sylvester Stallone, who repeatedly offered him roles in his upcoming films—which Chan, for one reason or another, repeatedly turned down. In I Am Jackie Chan, Chan recalled, “Another film Stallone offered me was Demolition Man, a movie with Sandra Bullock from the movie Speed. He wanted me to play a super villain running loose in the far future, chased by a super cop, played by him. I didn’t feel right about that role either. It ended up going to Wesley Snipes—so the two people I’d wanted to work with, and couldn’t, ended up working with each other.”
9. IT WAS COMPLETELY RE-DUBBED FOR ITS AMERICAN RELEASE.
Rumble in the Bronx
was filmed with all of the actors speaking their native languages: While many of the Canadian cast spoke English during the shoot, Chan spoke only Cantonese. The entire film (both English and Cantonese) was later completely redubbed in English.
10. NEW MUSIC WAS COMPOSED FOR THE FILM'S AMERICAN RELEASE.
Originally, the score for Rumble in the Bronx was composed by Nathan Wang, who gave it an unobtrusive jazz and rock soundtrack. But for the U.S. release, New Line had composer J. Peter Robinson create a new, more bombastic score (Robinson also re-composed the scores of four other Chan films as part of a deal with New Line).
11. ROGER EBERT COMPARED CHAN TO FRED ASTAIRE.
“Any attempt to defend this movie on rational grounds is futile,” Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film. “Don't tell me about the plot and the dialogue. Don't dwell on the acting. The whole point is Jackie Chan—and, like Astaire and Rogers, he does what he does better than anybody.”
12. STANLEY TONG ALSO JUMPED THE ALLEY.
One of the most impressive stunts in Rumble in the Bronx features Chan jumping from a rooftop parking lot onto the balcony of a building across the street. Chan made the impressive 28-foot jump on his own, without wires or a harness. But Chan wasn’t the only one to make the jump. Tong, an accomplished stunt man in his own right, allegedly had a rule that he’d never ask an actor to perform a stunt he wouldn’t do himself. So before Chan jumped the alley on film, Tong jumped it first. Tong, however, did use a harness and wires—which Chan apparently scrapped not to make the stunt more realistic, but because he felt that, with the presence of nearby power lines, they actually made it more dangerous.
13. CHAN BOUGHT ALL THE PROPS HIMSELF.
During one of the movie’s most famous scenes, Chan fights a motorcycle gang in a warehouse they use as their secret hangout. In the film, the warehouse is packed with refrigerators, pinball machines, sporting goods, and other random junk, which Chan spontaneously uses to defend himself from his assailants. While the warehouse looks like it was haphazardly furnished, Chan actually carefully chose each prop for its potential in the scene. “Before the fight in the warehouse, it was totally empty,” Chan said while promoting the film. “We had to put everything in and then figure everything out with my stunt guy.” Chan explained that he had purchased all of the props he thought would work in the scene, then worked with his stunt coordinator to choreograph the fight, using each prop.