According to director Brett Ratner, this film was the first film to be released in the U.S. featuring Jackie Chan in an English-speaking role without any kind of dubbing. According to Ratner, before this film Chan always had his voice dubbed over in his English-speaking roles because of his uncertainty in speaking the language. For this film, however, Ratner convinced him to forgo the dubbing as it would lend to the authenticity of his character.
Brett Ratner was a big fan of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong movies. He felt that American audiences would not be familiar with the jokes in Jackie's other movies, and deliberately re-used some of his gags. For example, the scene where Inspector Lee accidentally grabs Johnson's breasts is a reference to Jackie Chan's film Mr. Nice Guy (1997).
Chris Tucker improvised much of his dialogue, as he normally does in his films. According to director Brett Ratner, during the scene at Grauman's where Detective Carter bribes Stucky for information, there was so much improvisation between Chris Tucker and John Hawkes that they almost did not think they could edit it together as a coherent conversation. There are still continuity errors in the dialogue for this reason.
Elizabeth Peña played a prank on director Brett Ratner in which she appeared on the set wearing nothing but her character's bomb squad vest. According to Peña, she thought Ratner would laugh, but instead, he was extremely nervous and embarrassed.
After Carter shoots down Clive's car, he starts dancing like Michael Jackson. Three years following the release of this film, Chris Tucker appeared with Jackson in the music video of his song, "You Rock My World", as well as performing more Michael Jackson impressions in Rush Hour's sequels.
The original casting choices for the roles that ended up being Lee and Carter were Chris Farley and Martin Lawrence, and many news reports connected Farley's not making the film to his tragic death in December 1997. In fact, Farley and the production for the film had decided a few years earlier not to work together on the film, as they were already leaning towards the ultimate casting choice for the two leads (one Asian actor and one black actor); Farley's downward spiral in real life covered roughly the same time period that this film was made.
After filming and editing was completed, a rough test cut was shown to audiences - who demanded more Jackie Chan action scenes. The crew went back for a few more filming days and added in the scene where Chan fights multiple bad guys during the closing confrontation and the giant vase scene.
The film is considered to be a remake of Red Heat (1988). Both films are about tough foreign policemen whom go to the United States and partner up with cocky American policemen to take on a crime lord from the tough foreign policeman's country.