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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2001
Tinseltown, meet Chinatown
By KAORI SHOJI
"You know what I love about this movie? The near-total absence of white people."
This comment was heard in the screening room after "Rush Hour 2," in which Chris Tucker ventures to try a bit of Cantonese and Jackie Chan shows his hip-hop moves in downtown Hong Kong. Hell, I'd venture to say this is one of the most minority-dominated films to come out of mainstream Hollywood in recent years. That said, the script by Jeff Nathanson has some decidedly un-PC moments, as when Tucker says to Chan: "I'm tall, dark and beautiful, and you're Third World ugly."
Like all successful sequels, "Rush Hour 2" redoes the original on a grander, speedier, more expensive scale. Directed once again by wonderboy Brett Ratner, who was a mere 26 when he helmed his breakthrough movie, this sequel takes all that worked in the original and accelerates it up to 250 kph.
Ratner throws Asian action drama, "Saturday Night Live," a dash of Ebony aesthetics plus Chinatown knickknacks into a single blender and presses the start button. No pretensions to plot control or logic here, Ratner just wants you to witness the erupting smoke, sparks and subsequent chemical reaction of this unlikely two-hour cocktail. Pour and swallow. If you feel a bit queasy, don't worry. It's just the rush.
Hong Kong police detective Lee (Chan) invites his buddy Carter (Tucker) to take a break from the L.A.P.D. and spend some quality time in Asia. Carter accepts and flies 16,000 km only to discover that what Lee really wanted was a partner to help crack a couple of Chinese mafia rings, in particular one headed by smuggling lord Ricky Tang (John Lone). Carter is ticked off, but after he has crooned Michael Jackson in a karaoke club and experienced "heaven on earth" surrounded by Asian beauties in a massage parlor, he agrees to help.
They meet their match in the slimy Tang and his loyal henchwoman Hu Li (Zhang Ziyi "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), who can land her kung-fu kicks without messing up her gorgeous hair in the slightest. In Hong Kong, the duo admits temporary defeat but resolves to even the score in Los Angeles, which turns out to be the hub of the smuggling network.
Back in the States, Carter and Lee hook up with alleged secret agent Isabella (Roselyn Sanchez), who is masquerading as a baddie until she can nail Tang and his gang. The pursuit takes them to Las Vegas, and the truth about Tang's activities: a large-scale counterfeiting scam.
Lee also has a personal score to settle with Tang -- the latter was his father's former partner in the Hong Kong police force before turning traitor and killing him. Tang goads Lee with details of his father's last moments, toying with his pain and sadness. While Lee in his Asian way is enduring, suffering it all by himself, Carter is having a grand time at the roulette table, winning thousands of dollars and lecturing "the rich white folks" about racism and slavery.
The chemistry between Chan and Tucker has deepened since they last got together, and their partnership is really the gist of the story. The African-American/ Asian combination onscreen is fresh and diverting, particularly during the scenes when Tucker fends for himself on the streets of Hong Kong, navigating the markets and narrow alleyways. And it's not just him. In Los Angeles, an underground gambling joint is owned by a brother (Don Cheedle) who has a Chinese wife, is a marital-arts expert and can bow with studied elegance. He even exchanges blows with Chan, speaks Chinese and generally proves himself worthy of membership of the Asia Foundation.
This said, "Rush Hour 2" remains securely fenced inside the confines of a Hollywood production, and the Asia portrayed here is the easily accessible Asia of Chinatown, America. But at least this Chinatown is markedly snazzy and pulsing to the sounds of Snoop Doggy Dog, Keith Murray and L.L. Cool J. A big leap from the days when all we got was music from a Chinese gong, a lot of buck-teethed people waving chopsticks and not a whole lot more.