The action genre is a bit under-served now. A void left to fill by mostly young adult adaptations and superhero films. The protagonists I grew up on aren’t superheroes or major figures of influence they’re just plain humans. And putting simple humans together in a fight with only a drop of character easily creates an interesting dynamic.
Rush Hour 2, my favourite of the series has a great fight scene with Chris Tucker (30, at the time) and Zhang Ziyi (21, same age as me now!) making her English language debut. His character having rarely demonstrated anything beyond wisecracks to diminishing returns gives the audience an effective surrogate, no matter how annoying. In the Rush Hour universe mostly made up of boring political types and martial artists, Tucker’s character rests somewhere in the middle. It’s an exciting and rare occasion to see Detective Agent James Carter finally do some leg work solo after having handed most of it off to Jackie Chan’s Inspector Lee. And the audience is with it all the way.
It’s entertaining if a bit of a disservice to the gorgeously talented Zhang Ziyi, to share the marquee fight scene in the highest grossing martial arts movie, with Chris Tucker of all people. Then again with Brett Ratner at the helm, the Rush Hour films have never been regarded as high art. The scene opens by hinting at a typical action blend between Chan and Ziyi. Interpreted as a dangerous sign of overconfidence or support and dedication for his partner, we see Tucker step in. Speaking down to Hu Li (Chinese for Fox) and regarding an earlier non-confrontation as having “gone soft” on her because she’s a woman, Carter goes about his usual abrasiveness (highlighted by his crock-skin butter-cream suit) in attempt to outfox Li and gain the upper hand. The scene is easily one of the film’s best as everyone, including the audience understands what Carter is unwilling to admit, that he is comically over-matched.
As the fight begins, after an all talk introduction we see Carter cowering for his life. The panic on his face and desperation in his voice are one of the few times the performance is an asset. Using his few believable skills a combination of bluntness and ingenuity, Carter opportunistically uses various defensive props; a roulette wheel, a chair, rope, and a statue. It might be reaching to say they say something about the character themselves. This also runs as hilarious parody to Inspector Lee/ Chan’s anything as a prop fighting style.
In the end Carter survives due to a combination of dumb luck and his ability to get inside Hu Li’s head. His distracting techniques cause her to lose focus and knock herself out via her own weaponry. Saved by a thick stack of cash kept close to his heart we see what Carter holds dear, at least it is in the name if friendship.
*Rush Hour 2 is scheduled to be released on Blu-ray on January 6th, 2015