It’s 1998. Google makes its debut. Apple unveils the iMac. President Bill Clinton is impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. Gas is a whopping $1.15 a gallon. In the theaters, iconic films have predominately white casts including Titanic, There’s Something About Mary, and the American take on the Japanese classic, Godzilla. But this is also an important year in pop culture for Asian-Americans and Asian actors. 1998 is the year of Disney’s Mulan and New Line Cinema’s Rush Hour.
For older millennials and those in Gen X, the cast of Rush Hour might feel like old friends: Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan, Julia Hsu, Elizabeth Pena, Ken Leung, Tom Wilkinson, and Tzi Ma. Not to mention a soundtrack which is filled with 90’s hits. From the moment you hear adorable Soo Yung singing Mariah Carey’s hit, Fantasy, in the back of the car, you know exactly when this movie is set. You’re transported back to the days when one-liners also came in the form of a signature dance move.
Rush Hour isn’t just a fun action flick; it is also a groundbreaking movie. They dealt with stereotypes and microaggressions head-on, albeit with a humorous bent. One of the most iconic lines from the movie is a microaggression. “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” Most Asian-Americans have dealt with something like this before. Not only is this directly addressed in the movie, Lee (Chan) is stoic and straight-forward when he does address it. This is a typical response from first- and second-generation Asian Americans.
The chemistry between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker is great. Even when their characters are butting heads, the chemistry is still there. Interviews after the movie revealed that their onscreen relationship mirrored real life. Chan was quiet and serious while Tucker was allowed to improv some of his dialogue. This put them both off each other, at first. After a couple months of working together, they formed a friendship offscreen as well as onscreen. This is delightfully apparent in the bloopers.
What really makes this movie timeless is the excellent writing. It isn’t without its faults, but overall (especially for a movie set in the nineties), the writing is expertly done. It is easy for the audience to sympathize with both characters. From Lee’s (Chan) need to fulfill his promise to Soo Yung, to Carter’s (Tucker) need to prove himself to this squad, to Ambassador Han’s (Ma) worry for Soo Yung’s safety. Even the role of Johnson (Pena) is nuanced. She isn’t just a pretty face. Johnson might play a smaller role, but she still has a hurdle to overcome. This is why Rush Hour is such a great story. Not only is it a funny, action-packed ride, the characters are lovable, relatable, and have stakes.