Brockway: The 1980s and ‘90s were periods of rapid, tumultuous societal change. There was really only one unifying thread binding them together: Their undying certainty that gangs all hung out in cool Peter Pan-style clubhouses. Maybe there were other things. I don’t know. This is literally the only one I’m qualified to talk about.
See, people back then were terrified of gang violence, and sometimes rightfully so, but there was one problem: they also knew nothing about gangs. They basically assumed gangs were like The Little Rascals with guns. They had wacky nicknames, dressed in themed outfits, and all lived together in big clubs that made Pee Wee’s Playhouse look like Paul Reubens’ Jerk-Theater. Rumble in the Bronx has one of the best gang hideouts of the 1990s, but you only experience it while trying to track Jackie Chan’s erratic movements, which you would recognize as impossible if you had the time, but you don’t, because he’s already gouging you in the neck with a curtain rod and now he’s in the rafters and woops, he’s behind you. He has a stepladder. I’m sorry you had to die this way.
But I can’t let you miss this masterpiece of set design, so please allow me to take you through the gang headquarters of Rumble in the Bronx with a level of detail that is frankly worrying, and does not speak well of my mental health.
Seanbaby: Can I come too? I’m coming too. Rumble in the Bronx weeeeeeeek!
Brockway: You have to! There’s a jumpseat in your exact shape. It even has a little mohawk indent. Buckle up, because we’re already at the entrance, which I have dubbed The Fuckvan Foyer.
The movie breezes right through here, but there are a few sites you’ll need to stop and appreciate. First is the barrel in a hammock:
That’s where they keep the Gang Juice, and its storage directions mandate that the barrel must be kept in a chill place at all times. If you blink, you’ll miss the Dogg Zzone:
This gang might look tough, but they are so pure. They gave that ol’ boy a house, a rug, a toy, and decorated his yard with flowers. It’s almost a shame Jackie Chan is about to teach every single one of them what the inside of their teeth taste like.
Seanbaby: Ivan Pavlov would have really valued what could be learned from a domesticated dog watching fifty imprinted humans get beaten to death, but until Rumble in the Bronx there was no conceivable way to collect that kind of data.
Brockway: One of this film’s many contributions to the Martial Sciences. Here’s the guardpost, an impassable entryway guarded by a 14 year old punk in a rainbow truck who put his mohawk on upside down.
Here’s the Drug Room:
This is the only room in which people are doing drugs, meaning that the gang has enforced a sort of Hamsterdam scenario in their clubhouse, putting their social programs well ahead of the rest of the country.
Seanbaby: If the Bronx police can’t get the robbery, murder, and drug charges to stick, I think they can charge these people with building an unregulated methane plant in a residential zone.
Brockway: We exit through the Drug Room into the hallway which, as with much of the hideout, is playfully decorated using basic props and colorful tissue like a junior prom.
And not like, a good junior prom from one of those fancy schools that can afford a theme. This isn’t an ‘Ocean Escape’ or ‘Lucky In Love’ type of deal — this is a ‘Flavor Aid Counts As A Refreshment’ and ‘Jennifer’s Dad Can Get Some Extra Balloons (No Helium)’ affair:
That hallway empties out into the Dancing Room, which is only for dancing, much like the drug room is only for drugs. Gangs of the ‘90s were absolutely brutal about the enforcement of their themed rooms.
Again, Jackie just burns right through here because he’s on a mission to show local toughs how to kill eight men with a milk crate. But we need to pause to take in the sights. Don’t miss the guy passed out at the piano.
Please note that there are no drugs in the Dancing Room, and overdosing is not dancing, even if you do it festively. This man is about to be kicked out of the gang. Also, this gang has an old-timey piano.
Seanbaby: I think playing dead is just a natural defense mechanism piano players have against Jackie Chan. It’s similar to how flautists spray a jet of caustic fluid when they see Jackie Chan, or how bass players detach their tails to confuse him.
Brockway: Possum Style is the only animal-based Gung-Fu that works on Jackie Chan. Nobody else in the room pays this angry Asian tornado in a denim jacket any attention, though. They’re too busy having the most wholesome good time. We scan very briefly over the crowd of dancers, so please take special care to memorize this one…
… who is wearing a green leprechaun hat and a two-steak necklace? A… a huge fuzzy bowtie? I don’t know what that outfit is, but I do know the questions it poses will plague me until the end of my days.
Seanbaby: If I had to guess, and something inside me says I do, I say that’s an anatomical human lungs costume. So he’s either doing a presentation on the dangers of smoking or showing everyone where to stab a leprechaun so he can’t scream.
Brockway: Oh shit! It can be nothing else. I am no longer plagued. What a short, fun existential crisis that was.
Anyway, Jackie needs to make an entrance, so he rips the stereo off its stand…
… which is attached to a DJ cage strung with Christmas lights. “That’s a little weird,” you might think, “why is the DJ in a go-kart rollcage?” You have missed the real question: Why does a stereo have a DJ?
Seanbaby: This entire setup seems so far removed from function or aesthetics that it has to be an improvised medical device tinkered together by the gang doctor. He is wired into this thing to live, and Jackie Chan basically tore the iron lung off a man to tell a room to fuck itself. While Jackie is beating this guy’s friends to death with sporting equipment he has to lay there and watch as his kidneys fail to process the toxins out of his blood.
Brockway: It’s sad that DJs don’t have an animal-style defense against Jackie Chan like all the other musicians. Probably because they’re not real musicians to begin with.
Let’s move straight on from that frankly uncalled-for DJ shade: Here’s the main room, before the National Weather Service issued a Severe Jackie Chan warning and every single object in it became lodged in a punk’s asshole.
Jackie slams the stereo down on their pool table, which is the most polite way he knows to introduce himself.
Seanbaby: I think you’re right about this being an attempt at civility. He was probably just trying to lower the volume so they could talk and simply turned it down way too fucking hard. It’s like when Jackie Chan tries on new slacks and accidentally beats a JCPenney juniors department to death.
Brockway: It’s here we get a very brief reaction shot of the crowd. We must stop. We must analyze this.
Seanbaby: This is starting to feel too weird to be safe. I know it’s, like, “our thing,” but I’m not sure anyone is supposed to be looking so carefully at all of this. I feel like scientists discovering a new particle that suddenly says, “Command, there are two of them here who can see us.”
Brockway: I do feel myself evolving in terrifying, but exhilarating new directions. I hope one of them is a Jackie Chan defense mechanism. Maybe I can puke up an old meal to distract him, like the noble vulture.
Hey, quick: What’s the weirdest outfit in that image? Is it the one and only woman in full lingerie — not even ironically torn or defaced, but just straight up looking like she’s the only one trying to save this marriage? Is it the man with a cow-print do-rag? Is it the couple who look like models on a generic Hippy costume in the clearance rack at Huge Hank’s Halloween Outlet Store? No, trick question, it’s the surprise Jamaican not pictured:
He leaps out later in the scene with no warning, wearing a full sample book from a Miami carpet store, and is summarily destroyed by a ski which these idiots forgot to lock in a ski-safe just in case Jackie Chan came by.
Seanbaby: The wardrobe department for Rumble in the Bronx is a cursed Trapper Keeper that turns all it touches into Trapper Keeper. I don’t care if this sounds racist, but if I met this Jamaican guy I would just put my Algebra homework inside him, practice signing my name in a cool way on his vest, then carry him to AP English so he could watch me hate Wuthering Heights.
Brockway: There’s about to be a Category 5 Chanstorm in here, so let’s analyze the decor of this very tough gang’s clubhouse before Jackie makes Tough Tony swallow all of it piece by piece.
Brockway: Here’s a tiny boot lighting fixture, like you’d find blinking in a dusty corner of a TGI Friday’s.
Seanbaby: Is that a penguin skull hanging next to it? Also like you’d find in a dusty corner of a TGI Friday’s? Is penguin meat how TGI Friday’s gets their chicken tenders to taste like a lifetime of arctic hardship? I swear I learn something new everytime we watch Rumble in the Bronx.
Brockway: At one point Jackie leaps over the far wall, because Jackie Chan lives in noclip mode.
Dominating that wall is an old Jose Cuervo ad which, sure, alcohol is a gang thing. But hold on now…
All the other paintings are cheesy mass-market Asian landscapes, like you’d find adorning the walls of the Oriental Room — the least popular room in Huge Hank’s Hanky Panky Hotel.
Seanbaby: It is kind of nuts that in a warehouse decorated with every adjective and object known to man they still managed to carve out a spot that’s merely tacky.
Brockway: Other walls feature giant novelty cards…
… presumably to imply a connection to gambling, which scans as a criminal thing. I’ll give you that — but these look more like they stole the design vibes from a bingo parlor in an Elks Lodge, a fact which is proven by the Bingo paddle they strapped to a neary mannequin.
Seanbaby: They really do decorate like children trying to recreate a world described to them by their grandparents when humans lived above ground in the long-ago. But I suppose if you had to obnoxiously agree with someone, a Bingo paddle seems like a gentle alternative to an air horn.
Brockway: Once again you have fallen for the trap, focusing on the obvious while overlooking the piece of cardboard taped to the wall that says ‘cardboard’ on it.
Seanbaby: Oh, sweet: pizza! Aarrggh, come on! I told you assholes if you’re going to staple cardboard to the wall, please put “NOT PIZZA” on it! Fine, “CARDBOARD” works too! Whatever!
Brockway: Tough Tony, the gang-leader who dresses like Mick Jagger cosplaying as a bosun, squares up against Jackie on a pool table…
… and it’s a great shot, but they’re doing it beneath this distractingly quirky lighting fixture…
And I can’t help but picture these hardcore punks who spend their days knocking over grocery stores and glass-shredding Chinese dudes taking some free time to carefully rig up a playful chandelier you’d normally find in a kooky aunt’s dining room.
Actually, you can feel that same kooky aunt’s touch everywhere:
From the artfully paint-splattered ductwork, to…
The playful scrap Tiki Monster at the entrance. Kooky Kathy needed a creative outlet, so her nephew gave her free reign over the gang hideout with the only stipulations being ‘all material must come from the miscellaneous rack at a vintage furniture store’ and ‘no Hummels if you can help it.’
Seanbaby: It’s weird the gang labeled the cardboard as “cardboard” but not this as “titty devil fertility idol.”
Brockway: All right, back to the fight.
Tough Tony loses the standoff with Jackie Chan, because he was ready to block punches and it never occurred to him that he might get hit with a pinball machine instead. The whole scene bursts into chaos as everyone in the club tries to kill Jackie Chan, and Jackie Chan tries to make it look like they ever stood a chance. So you could be forgiven for missing…
… the several dozen ancient phone handsets carefully strung in one corner.
This was obviously done intentionally, and yet could serve no possible purpose. Once again, I must assume it’s an art installation, painstakingly hung by a bevy of artpunks to symbolize the stifled voices of the disenfranchised in an era of burgeoning hyper-connectivity. Or because the set designer found a box of old phones on a street corner and thought “must be a gang thing.”
Seanbaby: If you turn the sound way up you can hear voices coming from each of those phones screaming, “Hello!? Hello!? Are you there? It sounds like Jackie Chan just fucking kicking your ass! Hello!?”
Brockway: All gangs know that sound by heart. They do drills for it. They practice slapping each other with mouse traps and stuffing each other into giant tires just so they’ll be prepared if Jackie Chan shows up in a tanktop turtleneck with his lil’ koala face set to ‘murderous frown.’
Let’s move on to explore the Fridge Room.
If you’re watching the movie, there are far too many backlips to pause and question why a gang of troubled youths have an entire room dedicated to forty-year old fridges. They serve no purpose, they’re empty. Please allow “Cool ‘70s Man Costume” to demonstrate that fact with first his face:
And then his groin:
Seanbaby: Shout out to the Rumble in the Bronx wardrobe department who saw the script call for “TUBULAR JERMAINE looks like a cartoon earthworm recently chased through a clothesline” and absolutely nailed it.
Brockway: Bordering Fridge Room is Ancient Television Room, which again we do not question– they’re here to be thrown at Jackie Chan, if only so he can prove how futile that gesture is:
And in the far corner is the Sports Nook, which consists solely of golf clubs and skis– the exact two sports these teenage punks would never participate in.
It did occur to me that this might be the Stolen Goods Warehouse, but it’s too consistent: They only steal skis, golf clubs, old phones, non-functional televisions, and ancient refrigerators. They must exclusively rob middle-class Rhode Island men who left their garages open during Spring Cleaning.
Seanbaby: Every weekend is the same for Tony’s gang: murdering a foreign national in broad daylight then driving through Connecticut and stopping at every yard sale they see. “Practically free used appliances! Practically free used appliances! Practically free used appliances!” the gang chants.
Brockway: Eventually the fight ends when Tough Tony recognizes that chasing Jackie Chan around with a pool cue is like chasing a tiger around while wearing a two-steak necklace. Then Prodigy’s dorky younger brother comes in with a sack of loose Lance.
But a garbage bag full of manmeat isn’t the strangest thing in this image:
Generic cheesy puffs and champagne? Is this gang hosting every New Year’s Eve party I’ve ever thrown? The set design is crazy, of course. It goes very hard on the Goodwill electronics and cat-lady knick knacks, but nothing compares to the amount of snacks decorating this hideout.
There are just bags and bags of haphazard snacks everywhere. Fully half the set budget went into clearing out the chip aisle at the Dollar General:
Not only are snacks on every surface, there are several shopping carts just full of assorted groceries.
Are those fucking bulk canned tomatoes? Does this gang host Make Your Own Pie-Day Friday? Wait, hold on, let’s rewind back to the Drug Room real quick:
Got some family-sized boxed mac and cheese on the heroin table, huh? There is no kitchen in this place. If these punks eat Kraft dino-shapes dry, they have earned every bit of their hardass reputation.
Seanbaby: This diet is why their DJs have to be kept alive with Christmas lights and pinball machine parts.
Brockway: Had to be kept alive.
It’s clear that this gang absolutely loves two things: snacks and knick-knacks. I don’t recall their name being mentioned in the film, so they are now the Knick-Snack Gang, and they are precious to me. Like everything in Rumble in the Bronx, the throwaway bits are what really change the whole tone of the film into something special. I am now absolutely certain this gang only robs to pay for their crippling T.J. Maxx overflow aisle addiction, even though the real story is probably more like the closest thing to a gang member the set designer knew was their teenaged nephew, and when they asked him what his ultimate gang hideout would look like, they did not factor in how different 13 is from 17.
Seanbaby: I hope the Rumble in the Bronx set designer knows we love and appreciate them while they’re shouting for help at the bottom of thirteen tons of snow shovels, microwaves, and mannequin limbs. Happy Rumble in the Bronx Week to them! And you! To everyone! We did it!