The Video Store Days #13: My First Jackie Chan Film

Rumble in the Bronx was the first film I saw starring Jackie Chan. It was this film and Snake in the Eagle's Shadow that turned me into a lifelong Jackie Chan fan.

Every Sunday, my mother and I would go to church, then Sunday school, and then home. We would sit down and watch a show called “Samurai Sunday”, a two-hour block of programming on one of the UHF channels where they would show an old-school kung fu flick. Basically, if a kung fu flick came from the 70’s, then there was a huge chance that it would make it to “Samurai Sunday”. I saw all five Bruce Lee films, a ton of Shaw Brothers films, and a ton of low-rent kung fu flicks that no one else wanted. We did this every Sunday for years until one day when “Samurai Sunday” was not on anymore. There was no announcement (that we knew of) that “Samurai Sunday” was going away. It just stopped.

For the next few years, I got my kung fu fix through the American martial arts film. These things were around during the 80’s but were always overshadowed by the musclebound films by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. By the end of the 80’s, martial arts films came back into popularity (at least the American ones) due to the popularity of Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme. ABOVE THE LAW, BLOODSPORT, and KICKBOXER became very popular and soon we got a whole new slew of martial arts flicks. CHINA O'BRIEN, SHOOTFIGHTER, THE PERFECT WEAPON, and RAPID FIRE are just a small sampling of the abundance of martial arts films we got in the early 90s. I can’t tell you how many artists were pushed to the front as the star of their own films and the next big thing only to crash and burn a few years later. Jeff Speakman, Mimi Lessos, and the kids from 3 NINJAS were just a few of the many martial arts stars who went nowhere.

Now, watching Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Billy Blanks, and Cynthia Rothrock kicking ass through tons of films was always a great thing. My friends and I had gotten to know these actors so well that we would just rent movies based on who was in it. Sure, we got some stinkers, but we also saw some great films. The BLOODFIST films, MARTIAL LAW films, and BACK IN ACTION were mainstays at my video store during the 90s. 

These films filled the void that was there since “Samurai Sunday” went off the air. Then, in 1996, a film was released that changed kung fu flicks forever: RUMBLE IN THE BRONX.

This film changed how martial arts films were looked at here in America. The thing is: while we were watching a bunch of shitty martial arts films here in America (there were a lot of gems, but there were more shitty ones than gems), the guys (and gals) over in Hong Kong were redefining what a martial arts flick was supposed to be. The death of Bruce Lee not only brought an overabundance of Bruce Lee rip-off flicks, but it also upped the ante for what a martial arts film actually was. Bruce Lee was fast, but there were some out there who were faster. This speed increased the way that martial arts scenes were shot and edited., Before long, the fight scenes were more brutal and faster than ever.

Jackie Chan, who was being touted as the next Bruce Lee for most of the 70’s, decided that people wanted to see comedy within their fast and brutal fight scenes. Chan, along with Sammo Hung, was at the forefront of the resurgence of martial arts films in the 80’s. Both Chan and Hung did so much good during this time that there is no way to see the progress without thinking of the two. 

Before RUMBLE IN THE BRONX was released in US theaters in 1996, Chan had been brought to the US two times prior. Once was for the film THE BIG BRAWL (or BATTLE CREEK BRAWL) from the director of ENTER THE DRAGON. How Robert Clouse kept getting jobs based on one film baffles me to this day because he clearly had no idea what he was doing when it came to the fight scenes. Cynthia Rothrock, who work with Clouse on CHINA O'BRIEN, said that she would question the choices Clouse would make, as she had worked with Sammo Hung, Michele Yeoh, and Yuen Biao in the Hong Kong style of martial arts films, and Clouse would say “That’s how Bruce did it so that’s how we are doing it.” Needless to say that THE BIG BRAWL was not a good film, filled with awfully shot fight scenes and zero humor, something that Chan was known for by this time.

Five years later, Chan would come back to the US to star in THE PROTECTOR, a thriller that places Chan in a role that would have been more suited for Clint Eastwood. The film has some nasty violence, nudity, and Chan cursing. Chan hated this film so much, he took it back to Hong Kong, shot new fight scenes exclusive to the Hong Kong version of the film while taking out the stuff that should have been in a Jackie Chan film in the first place. 

RUMBLE IN THE BRONX was shot for an international release. If they couldn’t break Chan in the US market with American films then why not import his newest Hong Kong film? This worked because New Line Cinema, the company releasing the film in the States, marketed the film brilliantly. There was the main poster with the tagline: No Fear, No Stuntman, No Equal. There was also another poster that touted the various injuries that Chan had suffered over the years. The trailer for the film was cut in a way that every punch and kick was timed to the music in the trailer. This film was hyped huge and it paid off. The film opened at number one at the box office, which was a big deal at the time, and would go to gross $32 million in the States and $76 million worldwide.

Soon all there was a bidding war for Chan’s films. There were two studios that took a big chunk of Chan’s films for release in the States. New Line Cinema got almost every future release during the 90’s while also picking up a few older titles. Miramax would take the lion’s share of older Chan film. They would snap up POLICE STORY 3: SUPERCOP, PROJECT A 1 and 2, both ARMOUR OF GOD films (releasing them backwards where the first film in the series in Hong Kong would become the sequel’s sequel here in the States.), and DRUNKEN MASTER 2. Tai Seng would snap up the rights for many of Chan’s 80’s films including DRAGONS FOREVER, WHEELS ON MEALS, MY LUCKY STARS, and WINNERS AND SINNERS.

However, there were more Jackie Chan films out there and smaller companies were snagging those up. Films like HALF A LOAF OF KUNG FU, SPIRITUAL KUNG FU, FEARLESS HYENA, and DRAGON FIST were being released on VHS in very cheap versions that would often look like crap compared to the works of the other aforementioned companies. 

After viewing RUMBLE IN THE BRONX in the theater during opening weekend, I asked my father, who took me to see the film, if we could stop at our local Blockbuster to see if they had any Jackie Chan movies. He did and I found a few. I only had enough money for one so I picked the cheapest one they had and was on my way.

When I got home, I told my mother how great the film was and then went into my bedroom to view my new Jackie Chan VHS. SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW is the film I picked up and I was hooked by the opening credits sequence. The music, the effects, and the look of the film welcomed me with open arms, and for the next hour and a half, the film was my new best friend. I loved the film upon my first watch and have loved it ever since. The fight scenes were amazing and so was the comedy. At this time I had only seen Shaw Brothers and Bruce Lee films and they are not known for having that much comedy. This film was different. It took the comedy seriously, giving us some great gags that I would have never imagined in a kung fu flick.

I would later find out that SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW was the film, along with DRUNKEN MASTER released the same year, that would propel Chan's career into the big time. I hunted down a copy of DRUNKEN MASTER, and while I wasn't as impressed as I was with SNAKE, the film was still wildly enjoyable. 

My VHS of SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW is quite interesting. The front and back covers claim that the film is in widescreen with the back cover going so far as to say that the film is presented in the “original widescreen ratio”. The film is in widescreen, but not the “original widescreen ratio”. SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW was shot in “scope”, an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 as most kung fu flicks were at the time. This VHS has cropped the picture from 2.35:1 down to a 1.85:1. Keep in mind that most films brought to VHS were cropped down to an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Going from a 2.35:1 down to a 1.33:1 is jarring, but going down to a 1.85:1 is more manageable. Trusting the back of the box, I thought that 1.85:1 WAS the film’s original aspect ratio for years until Sony released the film on DVD in 2002 with the film’s proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Still, the 1.85:1 aspect ratio was far better for a film like SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW than a sloppy 1.33:1. 

As time would go on, I would collect more and more Jackie Chan films, as well as other martial arts films on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray. In fact, my Jackie Chan collection has grown so much over the years that he is my #1 collected person in my entire collection. Without video stores, I don’t think the collection would have been this big. Sure, most of these were blind buys, and you can do that with streaming, but you can lose your movies at any time if a streaming platform goes under where you always have your physical copy unless something happens to that copy.

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