Review: Rush Hour (1998)
Composer: Lalo Schifrin
Label: Aleph Records
Catalogue Nr.: Aleph Records 005
There was a time when Jackie Chan movies were synonyms for great fun and exciting stunts. That high time was mainly before he made the step to Hollywood where failures like Around The World In 80 Days (2004) indicated that his best times were long gone but Rush Hour (and arguably the sequel) clearly belongs to the last good Chan films even though it was a product of Hollywood and mostly consisted of cleverly recycled gags from his previous films. Nevertheless, the dialogue was funny with Chris Tucker creating a hilarious counterpart to Chan and the action was cool enough with exciting chase scenes, well choreographed fight scenes and menacing villains. The film successfully played with the cultural clash between Chan's inspector Lee and Tucker's detective Carter who are both forced to work together in order to rescue Soo Yung, the kidnapped little daughter of the Chinese Consul Han Solon (there are a couple of these funny name-games in the film). It is really sad that Chan movies have constantly gone down in quality ever since this movie but there is still some hope because a third sequel is already in the making.
Director Brett Ratner felt that the only man who would be capable to compose a fitting score for Rush Hour would be Lalo Schifrin. The composer wrote one of his most remarkable scores for one of Ratner's favourite films from the 70's, the legendary Bruce Lee cult movie Enter The Dragon (1973), and Schifrin also worked with the director before on Money Talks (1997). Therefore it does not surprise that Schifrin's score is almost just a re-interpretation of his work for the Bruce Lee movie spiced with some Dirty Harry which makes Rush Hour the perfect example for how a 70's score translated into the 90's sounds like. What's even more surprising is that it works very well even though the music has a noticeable retro-touch which basically adds to the fun even more.
The "RUSH HOUR Main Title" is already full of nostalgia with the orchestra backed up by Asian percussion, e-guitars, slap bass and synthetic sounds screaming the main theme and the villain theme at the listener. Both signature motifs are featured more or less prominently throughout the score. Like in Enter The Dragon (1973) Schifrin puts the orchestral emphasis on horns performing Asian riffs and combined with the overblown, unconventional orchestration this first cue comes off as one of the best on the CD. The musical choice becomes even more interesting when put against the film because there is almost too much going on in the score for a scene that is actually very sneaky. A lovely Asian melody for flute backed up by an Asian guitar instrument and conventional strings forms "Soo Yung's Theme" which ends on a dark note to foreshadow "Soo Yung's abduction" which is a very short frenetic cue with an emphasis on light percussion to accompany the little girl's hopeless attempts to escape the villains. Soo Yung's theme is reprised later on in "Lee's Sadness".
Dirty Harry (1971) meets Enter The Dragon (1973) is heard when "Lee Arrives In L.A." with western instrumentation like slap bass and rock percussion playing against the eastern tones and instrumentation from the "RUSH HOUR Main Title". The stunning foot chases and fight scenes for Chan are accompanied by lots of frenetic action music such as "Fight At The Harbor", "Jumping The Bus", "Battle At Juntao's", "Chasing Sang", "On Juntao's Heels", "High Tension" and "The British Menace" all of which are generally overblown cues with percussion, synths, xylophones, e-guitar, brass and bass going crazy. While they are certainly full of details in terms of orchestration, everything comes off as rather inconsistent which can be very demanding to the listener. Of course the usual spoofs of traditional Asian folk music can't be missed in a score like Rush Hour, so they are featured prominently and to a comic effect in "Won Ton For Two", "Greasy Egg Rolls" and "Chinese Street Music".
The rest comes off as sneaky or suspenseful with cues like "Explosive Situation", "Lee At The Mansion", "Restaurant Poison" or "Sweet And Sour". Light percussion such as marimbas or xylophones are used very prominently in these cues, playing against the usual orchestral suspense effects like tremolo strings or muted trumpets.
Score as heard in the film: 70%
Score as heard on CD: 76%
The original soundtrack CD of Rush Hour was a mess which only featured unrelated songs and dialogue from the film. Luckily, composer Lalo Schifrin wisely created his own label Aleph Records which released a wealth of over 45 minutes from the film's original score. If only the volume levelling would not be messed up causing minor distortion during loud orchestral passages which of course are the majority of the music. The mix is really penetrating at times with all instruments mixed at high volume which completely cancels out any depth in the composition. The informative liner notes by film music expert Doug Adams are barely a compensation for that.
Presentation by the Label: 39%
Rush Hour is essentially a good 70's action score taken into the 90's with considerable success. The cross between Schifrin's Asian sound from Enter The Dragon (1973) and the urban tones from Dirty Harry (1971) works good in the film even though some of the busy action passages are sometimes a little bit intrusive. That's also a reason why the score can be a rather difficult listen on CD because the action comes off as rather inconsistent but packed with too many ideas and overblown orchestration. There are motifs but they are not very strong and underused which was slightly fixed by Schifrin for the sequel's score. Nevertheless, Rush Hour is a must for fans of scores with heavy Asian instrumentation and all admirers of the composer who will find some cool references to earlier Schifrin classics in this one.
Review by Andreas Creutzburg
01. Rush Hour (main title) (02:04)
02. Fight at the Harbor (01:20)
03. Soo Yung's Theme (03:17)
04. Soo Yung's Abduction (00:54)
05. Lee Arrives in L.A. (01:29)
06. Jumping the Bus (02:08)
07. Won Ton for Two (01:50)
08. Explosive Situation (01:19)
09. Lee at the Mansion (02:18)
10. Restaurant Poison (02:15)
11. Battle at Juntao's (02:20)
12. Greasy Egg Rolls (00:56)
13. Chasing Sang (02:36)
14. $50 Million Ransom (01:51)
15. On Juntao's Heels (04:09)
16. Asian Art Convention (01:48)
17. Lee's Sadness (01:47)
18. Hight Tension (02:29)
19. Sweet and Sour (02:09)
20. Chinese Street Music (02:03)
21. Carter Chases Clive (01:32)
22. The British Menace (01:26)
23. Rush Hour (end title) (03:22)