On the last day of British rule in Hong Kong late 1997, Detective Inspector Lee of the Hong Kong Police Force leads a raid at a shipping bar wharf, hoping to arrest the mysterious crime lord Juntao. He finds only Sang, Juntao's right-hand man, who manages to escape. However, Lee successfully recovers numerous Chinese cultural treasures stolen by Juntao, which he presents as a farewell victory to his departing superiors: Chinese Consul Solon Han and British Commander Thomas Griffin.
Shortly after Han arrives in the United States to take up his new diplomatic post in Los Angeles, his daughter, Soo Yung, is kidnapped by Sang while on her way to her first day of school. The FBI informs Consul Han about the incident. Han calls in Lee to assist in the case. The FBI is afraid that the injury or death of Lee would result in negative attention internationally, decide to pawn him off on the LAPD just to keep him out of their way. The arrogant, reckless and loudmouthed detective, James Carter is tricked into doing this but Carter makes a plan to solve the case himself when he finds out that he has been given a mundane task as punishment for botching a sting operation.
Carter meets Lee at Los Angeles International Airport and proceeds to take him on a sightseeing tour of LA, simultaneously keeping Lee away from the embassy and contacting several of his underworld informants about the kidnapping. Lee finally escapes and makes his way to the Chinese Consulate, where an anxious Han and a group of FBI agents are awaiting news about his daughter. While being reprimanded by Agent-in-charge Warren Russ, Carter accidentally involves himself in a phone conversation with Sang, where he arranges a ransom drop of $50 million in a couple of hours.
The FBI traces the call to a warehouse and sends in a team of agents only to have them killed by a bomb. Spotting Sang nearby, Lee and Carter give chase, but Sang escapes, dropping the detonator in the process. Carter's colleague, LAPD bomb expert Tania Johnson, helps them trace the detonator to Clive, a man previously arrested by Carter. Clive is guilt-tripped by Lee into revealing his business relationship with Juntao whom he met a restaurant in Chinatown and this earns Carter's trust in Lee. Carter goes to the restaurant alone where he sees a surveillance video of Juntao carrying Soo-Yung into a van. Lee arrives and rescues Carter, but the two are taken off the case after the FBI blames them for ruining the ransom drop with Lee being sent back to Hong Kong. Despite this setback, Carter appeals to Johnson for assistance and sneaks onboard Lee's plane, persuading Lee to help finish the case and stop Juntao. Griffin later involves himself in the case, revealing more about the HKPF's past with Juntao's syndicate.
At the opening of a Chinese art exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center, which Han and Griffin are overseeing, the now $70 million ransom is being delivered. Carter, Lee and Johnson enter disguised as guests, where Carter distracts the guests into leaving for safety. This angers the FBI, but also blows Griffin's cover, as Lee catches him walking over to a bar and accepting a remote for the detonator from Sang. He and Johnson both conclude that Griffin is Juntao because Carter recognizes him from a surveillance tape in Chinatown. Griffin threatens to detonate a bomb vest attached to Soo Yung and demands the money be paid in full in compensation to the loss of the priceless Chinese artifacts he worked so hard to preserve. However, Carter manages to sneak out, locate her in the van, drives it into the building and brings her within range of Griffin, knowing that setting it off would kill him as well.
Johnson manages to get the vest off Soo Yung while Griffin heads toward the roof with the bag of money. Lee takes the vest and pursues Griffin while Carter shoots Sang dead in a gunfight. Lee eventually catches up to Griffin, resulting in a brief battle that culminates in the two dangling from the rafters under the roof. Griffin, holding onto the vest, falls to his death when the vest breaks, but before Lee falls, Carter is able to place a large flag underneath and catch him safely.
Han and Soo Yung are reunited, and Han sends Carter and Lee on vacation together to Hong Kong as a reward for their actions. Before Carter leaves, Agents Russ and Whitney offer him a position in the FBI, which he rudely refuses. Carter gets on the airplane with Lee, who starts singing Edwin Starr's "War", annoying Carter.Jackie Chan as Detective Inspector Lee
Chris Tucker as Detective James Carter
Tom Wilkinson as Thomas Griffin / Juntao
Tzi Ma as Consul Solon Han
Ken Leung as Sang
Elizabeth Peña as Detective Tania Johnson
Mark Rolston as FBI Special Agent Warren Russ
Rex Linn as FBI Agent Dan Whitney
Chris Penn as Clive Cobb
Philip Baker Hall as Captain William Diel
Julia Hsu as Soo Yung Han
John Hawkes as Stucky
Clifton Powell as Luke
Barry Shabaka Henley as Bobby
Rush Hour opened at No. 1 at the North American box office with a weekend gross of $33 million in September 1998. Rush Hour grossed over $140 million in the US and $103 million in the rest of the world, for a total worldwide gross over $244 million. The film holds a 60% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes; the average score is 6/10. The site's consensus reads: "A kick-ass addition to the cop-buddy film genre." Metacritic rated it 60/100 based on 23 reviews. Roger Ebert praised both Jackie Chan, for his entertaining action sequences without the use of stunt doubles, and Chris Tucker, for his comical acts in the film, and how they formed an effective comedic duo. Joe Leydon of Variety called it "a frankly formulaic but raucously entertaining action comedy".
A sequel Rush Hour 2, was released in 2001, which was primarily set in Hong Kong. A third film, Rush Hour 3, was released on August 10, 2007, which was primarily set in Paris. Tucker earned $25 million for his role in the third film and Chan received the film's distribution rights in Asia. A fourth film in the series is in negotiations, and reportedly may be set in Moscow.
Edwin Starr's "War" was used as the ending theme for the film.
The film's soundtrack features the hit single "Can I Get A..." by Jay-Z, Ja Rule and Amil, as well as tracks by Flesh-n-Bone, Wu-Tang Clan, Dru Hill, Charli Baltimore and Montell Jordan.
The official soundtrack album was also a success, certified platinum on January 21, 1999.1999 ALMA Awards
Winner: Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film (Elizabeth Peña)
1999 BMI Film and TV Awards
Winner: BMI Film Music Award (Lalo Schifrin)
1999 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
Winner: Favorite Duo- Action/Adventure (Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker)
Nomination: Favorite Supporting Actress- Action/Adventure (Elizabeth Peña)
1999 Bogey Awards (Germany)
Winner: Bogey Awards in Silver
1999 Golden Screen (Germany)
Winner: Golden Screen
1999 Grammy Awards
Nomination: Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television (Lalo Schifrin)
1999 NAACP Image Awards
Nomination: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Motion Picture (Chris Tucker)
1999 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards (United States)
Nomination: Favorite Movie Actor (Blimp Award) (Chris Tucker)
1999 MTV Movie Awards
Winner: Best On-Screen Duo (Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker)
Nomination: Best Comedic Performance (Chris Tucker)
Nomination: Best Fight (Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker) (For the fight against the Chinese gang)
Nomination: Best Movie Song (Jay-Z) (For Can I Get A...)