Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan In For Giant Surprise In ‘Rush Hour 3′

Odd couple take on huge Chinese basketball player in sequel.

CULVER CITY, California — Chris Tucker was breathing hard, as if in pain, flat on a mat. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” he yelped. But as he scrambled to get up, someone prevented him from moving forward, simply by stepping on his toes. When he turned to see what it was, his look of pain turned to one of fear, and he crumpled into a kneeling position, as if he were about to beg. “I’m sorry,” he whimpered. Towering over Tucker was a giant — not a CGI or special-effects giant to be added in later, but the real thing.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Chinese basketball player Sun Ming Ming.

Back when he was promoting “X-Men 3: The Last Stand,” director Brett Ratner joked about ways to spice up his next “3″ — that being “Rush Hour 3″ — by bringing in some new blood. “I was going to put Wolverine in ‘Rush Hour,’ ” Ratner laughed at the time. “I was going to do a hybrid of ‘X-Men’ and ‘Rush Hour.’ ” But with Hugh Jackman otherwise employed, why couldn’t “Rush Hour 3″ have a mutant of its own?

Enter Sun Ming Ming, who stands nearly 7 foot 9 inches tall — and makes Tucker look practically hobbit-like by comparison. “There’s nobody better than him,” Ratner said recently, on one of the sequel’s soundstages. “Sun Ming Ming is the man. Andre the Giant, nobody can mess with him. He makes Shaq look like a midget, OK?”

The “fight scene” can hardly be called that, since Sun Ming Ming doesn’t really have to do much to thwart Tucker, whose punches land nowhere. It was inspired by Bruce Lee’s 1978 movie, “Game of Death,” in which the martial artist bested, of all people, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“It’s the reverse, so now instead of a Chinese guy fighting a big black guy, you have a small black guy fighting a big Chinese guy,” Ratner said. “I’m not going to show you the outcome, because I want it to be a surprise, but this guy is big.” (If “Game of Death” is any indication, a headlock could prove helpful to Tucker.)

“It’s very dangerous, a lot of very dangerous stuff we’re doing,” Tucker said. “I do my own stunts. Jackie Chan does his own stunts, that’s why I have to do mine. He makes it hard on me — I don’t want to get showed up, so I got to do it.”

“Chris has nothing to do,” Chan laughed. “He just makes noise. I’m the one who fights. The next one, I should do the talking and he should do the fighting!”

Though this “fight” took place on a soundstage, it’s a stand-in for a Paris dojo where Tucker and Chan’s characters search for clues relating to an assassination attempt on a Chinese ambassador. So where the first “Rush Hour” gave Chan’s Chief Inspector Lee the fish-out-of-water treatment in Los Angeles, and its sequel did the same to Tucker’s Detective James Carter in Hong Kong, now they’re both in the same boat. “They both don’t speak the language, and neither can be understood,” Ratner said.

So how do the castmembers and director alike think the latest installment will stack up to the first two?

“We always make [the franchise] better,” Tucker said. “[The first] ‘Rush Hour’ I loved the most. ’2′ was good, but I think this one is going to better than all of them. It’s like one big outtake. It’s more fun, more action, more of everything.”

“Everyone’s like, ‘How do you make it better?’ We cannot be too violent, no dirty words, so it’s very difficult,” Chan said of the PG-13 movie. “Gunfights are easy. But this? Where do you do the punch? Why is this punch better? If you make the wrong choice, you risk your career. I risk my life to do the best.”

“It’s ‘Rush Hour’ to the next level,” Ratner promised. “Look out.”

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