Hasitha Fernando revisits Rush Hour as it turns 25…
Remember that age old expression “it takes two to tango?” well, the old adage rings especially true of buddy comedies. A sub-genre that has been around since the inception of Hollywood cinema, kick-starting in the 30s with the likes of Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello. Half a century later things picked up a notch with the rising popularity of the action genre and thus, the buddy action-comedy hybrid was born with efforts such as Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop, leading the way.
Capitalizing on their successes the next decade offered a plethora of excellent buddy action-comedies and one of the era’s biggest standouts was 1998’s Rush Hour, released 25 years ago today. So, let’s get down to business and take a look at what happened during the making of this iconic action classic…
The project started off as a spec script
Screenwriter Ross LaManna started off his motion picture career at Embassy Pictures’ international business affairs department, but his inherent talent lay in writing. After having one of his speculative scripts – or spec scripts – purchased by Colombia Pictures, LaManna was hired by United Artists under a two-picture writing deal, where he wrote the Gary Busey vehicle Chrome Soldiers. He was also involved in contributing to the scripts of Universal Soldier, Cliffhanger and Star Trek: First Contact, albeit in an uncredited capacity.
LaManna’s first big break in the industry came with the spec script for Rush Hour. The script was sold off to Hollywood Pictures, a division of the Walt Disney Company, by LaManna’s agent with producer Arthur Sarkissian getting attached to oversee its development. Things, however, got complicated shortly after.
Budgetary concerns and other issues delayed production
After Brett Ratner became attached as the director, the movie went through a pre-production period for over a year with the producers and the filmmaker spit balling ideas with LaManna. However, Disney chief Joe Roth took issue with the $34 million budget and put the project on turnaround. Roth wasn’t too keen with Jackie Chan’s involvement either, as he thought American audiences might not warm up to the Asian actor.
Nevertheless, after Disney developed cold feet, several studios were eager to acquire the project and it was at this moment that New Line Cinema stepped in with an impressive offer. And having worked with Ratner before on Money Talks, New Line was confident that their venture was in good hands.
Chris Tucker wasn’t the top choice at first
Although now we cannot picture anyone else but Christ Tucker in the role of fast-talking, street smart LAPD Detective James Carter, several other actors were in contention for the role during the early stage of production. Wesley Snipes, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle were all in the running but Murphy and Snipes dropped off, due to their commitments to Holy Man and Blade respectively. Tucker was inevitably selected since Ratner credited him with getting his first feature film – Money Talks.
Jackie Chan received a visit by the director to pitch the film
From the get go Ratner made Jackie Chan’s involvement in the movie a top priority. In the wake of Rumble in the Bronx’s success the filmmaker wanted to get Chan on board his project, not to play second fiddle to Tucker, but to have the talented actor on an equal footing with his Western counterpart. Because of this Ratner flew all the way to South Africa to pitch Chan the film and a few days later he agreed to take on the role.
The Asian action star was surprised about the level of precaution taken in Hollywood films
Jackie Chan is a man that requires no introduction. The uber-talented actor has been doing all stunts in the movie he’s starred in, without the use of any stunt doubles. And some of these death-defying acts have even cost him more than an arm or a limb, on multiple occasions. So, it came as a surprise for Chan about the level of precautions Hollywood productions took when carrying out their stunts, when back in Hong Kong the safety measures taken were less than a bare minimum.
Chris Tucker was worried if his partner would be able to keep up with him
Since Rush Hour featured Jackie Chan’s first English speaking role Chris Tucker was initially worried if the veteran actor would be able to keep up with his rapid-fire type talking style. But Chan was more than up to the challenge and with director Brett Ratner’s strict no-no policy to have his dialogue dubbed over by another, Chan had no choice. In the end, Tucker was more than happy to assist his partner out with his lines of dialogue, but instances where the actor got carried away and improvised, caused Chan considerable distress.
“If I turned the page of the script and saw another dialogue scene, the whole night I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I not only have to remember my lines; I have to remember Chris Tucker’s lines. But every time, it’s always different dialogue with him. He’s always making things up” revealed Chan during a behind-the-scenes interview.
Gags from Jackie Chan’s previous flicks were included in the movie
Although Chan was a household name back in his home turf, the performer’s work was not as widely known with Western audiences prior to Rush Hour’s release. Being a fan of the actor’s Hong Kong martial arts flicks, Ratner wanted Chan to revisit some of his old gags and incorporate them into this movie as well. Chan, of course, was more than happy to oblige and the scene where Chan’s Inspector Lee accidentally grabs Tania Johnson’s breasts is a reference to his 1997 film, Mr. Nice Guy.
Rush Hour was a major box office hit during its release
Rush Hour opened at No.1 in September 1998 grossing over $ 140 million in the USA and raking in $ 244 million worldwide. It surpassed the record previously held by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for biggest opening weekend for a New Line Cinema film. The movie held on to the September record for three years until it was bested in 2002 by the Reese Witherspoon rom-com Sweet Home Alabama. The critics too were won over by Tucker and Chan’s incendiary pairing, and applauded its stylish execution which capitalized and amalgamated the strengths of both performers into one functional whole.
Sequels, TV shows and more
The major success and subsequent popularity of the first installment naturally prompted New Line Cinema to immediately fast-track a sequel featuring the dynamic duo. Rush Hour 2 was released in 2001 followed by Rush Hour 3 which debuted six years later. The former featured a story primarily set in Hong Kong, while the latter’s story took place in Paris. Although receiving generally mixed reviews by critics, Rush Hour 2 went on to become the highest-grossing film in the franchise, but this success couldn’t be sadly duplicated the third time around, with Rush Hour 3 underperforming at the box-office.
A short-lived TV series based on the premise of the films also aired from March to August 2016 on CBS, but without the involvement of Tucker and Chan – whose chemistry played a key role in the movies’ success – the show fell apart and was cancelled after one season. In 2019, there were discussions to reboot the franchise from scratch with a female led cast led by Li Bing Bing, but as of yet, nothing concrete has happened.
An unexpected legacy & the Brett Ratner controversy
One of the most unexpected legacies that Rush Hour spawned was the creation of the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. The site’s founder Senh Duong, was inspired to create the website after collecting all the reviews of Chan’s Hong Kong action films in anticipation of Rush Hour’s release. He then coded the site within two weeks to go live just before the film’s proposed release date.
Talks of a Rush Hour 4 have been swirling around for the last decade or so, with neither Chan or Tucker offering a concrete word despite being interested in returning to their respective roles. This state of uncertainty got further complicated with the multiple sexual misconduct allegations levelled against Rush Hour franchise director Brett Ratner in October 2017, during the peak of the Me Too movement. As it stands, progress on a potential third sequel is somewhat up in the air, and as fans we can only hope that someday things will fall in line and Rush Hour 4 becomes a reality.
What are your thoughts and recollections of Rush Hour? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.