|If you see only one
karate-Western-comedy this year . . . and
there are no other
karate-Western-comedies playing at the
time, "Shanghai Noon" makes for
a nice guilty pleasure outing.
The latest Jackie Chan mismatched buddy
vehicle teeters over the Offensively Dumb
abyss, but somehow manages to land
squarely on the side of being lots of
Sticking with the successful "Rush
Hour" formula - and turning out
funnier - "Shanghai Noon"
doesn't satisfy any unfinished business
started by slow-moving yankee David
Carradine on the old "Kung Fu"
show. Instead, Chan plays Chon Wang
(subsequently mispronounced "John
Wayne" - a lousy cowboy name,
according to one character). He's a
second-string Chinese imperial guard who
comes to America to rescue his kidnapped
Princess Pei Pei. (And yeah, you can see
the joke about her name coming like the
plume from a locomotive in the distance.)
On the way to deliver her ransom, Chon
and his imperial posse are caught in an
inept train robbery led by the gentle,
whiny Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson from
"Armageddon" and "The
Haunting"). The job is botched,
Chon's uncle is killed, Roy runs afoul of
his henchmen, and the two adversaries
ultimately team up to evade both the bad
guys and the good guys, save Pei Pei and
"Shanghai Noon," with Jackie
Chan, Owen Wilson and Lucy Liu. Directed
by Tom Dey, from a script by Alfred Gough
and Miles Millar. 110 minutes. Several
theaters. "PG-13" - parental
guidance advised for action violence,
drug humor, language and sensuality.
"Shanghai Noon" manages to
avoid the pitfalls of other
martial-arts-comedy hybrids that aren't
enough of either to make them worth the
time. One reason is the interplay between
Chan - who's always worked his cutesy
mugging as hard as his kicks - and the
lovably dippy Wilson, who even infused
the serial killer in last year's
"The Minus Man" with little-boy
sympathy. He also possesses the singular
trait of not being the irritating Chris
Case in point: a bathtub drinking game
between the two in a bordello. Chan and
Wilson rise above a funny scenario that
becomes strained, and they do so
repeatedly, despite the direction of Tom
Dey, a first-timer from the world of
commercials who's unable to remove the
contrived feel from any scene.
Screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles
Millar were responsible for the vile
"Lethal Weapon 4," but they
score here with the sheer, brazen,
plow-right-ahead obviousness of the jokes
- especially subtitled cracks by Indians
and the aforementioned pee-pee line,
which drew a big laugh at a test
As for Pei Pei, she's played by Lucy Liu
of "Ally McBeal," who gets
third billing but is left without much to
do for most of the story.
There's a satisfying amount of action
between the laughs, unlike, for instance,
Chan's 1988 "Who Am I?" which
didn't seem to know what it was, and
dragged on more than 50 minutes before a
But longtime Chan fans will have to
notice that the guy's showing his age.
There are far fewer unbroken takes here
than in his previous work; and his
traditional end-credit outtakes this time
are more bloopers than painful stunts
gone awry. (See the astounding footage at
the end of "Drunken Master II"
for a prime example.)
Chan may still be a near-superhuman
athlete by any standard other than his
own, but he was no spring roll at the
time of his 1996 U.S. breakthrough,
"Rumble in the Bronx." He was
already a huge Asian star by the time of
his abortive try to kick his way into the
U.S. market in the execrable 1980
action-comedy, "The Big Brawl."
But it's to Chan's credit that he can
pick up the slack with his personality.
Jet Li, who's scary-proficient now,
couldn't do the same thing.
GO WEST, YOUNG CHAN
By JONATHAN FOREMAN
A very funny East-meets-Western romp
about a Chinese imperial guard who
partners up with a laid-back outlaw to
rescue a kidnapped princess. It provides
a sparkling showcase for Jackie Chan's
genius for physical comedy and a breakout
role for Owen Wilson.
Running time: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.
At the 42nd Street E Walk, the Union
Square, the Lincoln Square, others.
A sure-fire summer crowd-pleaser, and the
most enjoyable western comedy since
"Shanghai Noon" is a cheerful,
First-time director Tom Dey deftly mixes
Jackie Chan's Buster Keaton-inspired
genius for physical comedy with Owen
Wilson's talent for the deadpan
one-liner, to fashion a fast, smart, very
funny buddy flick.
It obviously helps that the two stars
have such sparkling chemistry, but they
are also working from an uncommonly
smart, dryly irreverent script by Alfred
Gough and Miles Millar.
The movie starts in Peking's Forbidden
City in 1881. The beautiful Princess Pei
Pei (Lucy Liu of "Ally McBeal")
is about to be married off to the fat,
toadlike, 12-year-old emperor.
With the help of her English tutor (Jason
Connery) she runs off to America, only to
be delivered to an evil Chinese traitor
(Roger Yuan) who has become a mining
magnate using Chinese labor, and who
threatens to kill her unless the imperial
court pays a massive ransom.
A crack team of imperial guards is
dispatched to Carson City, Nev., with a
chest full of gold to ransom the
princess. Accompanying them only because
his uncle is the official interpreter is
Chan, as the bumbling imperial guard Chon
Wang - pronounced "John Wayne."
The train on which they're traveling to
Carson City is robbed by an outlaw gang
led by the ultra-laid-back gangster Roy
O'Bannon (Owen Wilson), who's really only
in the crime game to impress the girls.
Because one of his new gang-members is a
psychopath who doesn't get O'Bannon's
rules of nonviolent train robbery, the
heist goes badly wrong.
Chon's uncle is killed, and Chon and
O'Bannon find themselves alone and at
each other's throats in the desert.
Of course, after various misadventures
and brawls, and an episode in which Chon
is adopted by a party of Sioux warriors,
he and the feckless O'Bannon end up
working together to rescue the princess.
Jackie Chan's English is now good enough
to showcase the charm and charisma the
star has to spare. One of his funniest
moments - a drinking scene with Wilson in
a bordello bathroom - doesn't even
involve any stunts.
There are times, in fact, when you almost
wish that the movie took more time to
show off his amazing acrobatic abilities
(Chan choreographs and performs his own
Despite all the hilariously anachronistic
dialogue, the filmmakers take care to
respect the plot and visual conventions
of the western.
They deal lightly with issues of race and
culture without any of the politically
correct point-scoring so common in
revisionist westerns. It's also a very
well-photographed film that makes the
most of some stunning Alberta, Canada,
The lovely Native American model Brandon
Merrill plays Falling Leaves, Chon Wang's
Best in the West
By LOUIS B. HOBSON, Calgary Sun
If any movie deserves to be a
runaway hit this summer, it's Jackie
Chan's western Shanghai Noon.
It's a big-hearted comedy with laughs,
romance, adventure and some spectacular
As he did in Rush Hour, Chan plays a fish
out of water.
This time he's Chon Wang (read John
Wayne), an Imperial guard at the
Forbidden City in Beijing.
The princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) is
kidnapped, spirited off to the American
West and held for ransom.
The Emperor sends three of his most
trusted warriors to pay the hefty ransom
and retrieve the princess.
Wang is sent along as a servant, but it's
not long before he is separated from his
cohorts and in search of the princess on
Wang is a character dear and familiar to
Chan. He's a simple man with high ideals
and an important mission who becomes a
hero more by accident than design.
Writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar
make certain Wang's efforts are
complicated at every turn.
He must scale mountains, square off
against outlaws and bounty hunters,
battle hostile Natives and face an old
foe from his days in China.
Along the way, Wang acquires a Native
princess (Brandon Merrill) as a wife and
a scheming partner named Roy O'Bannon
Both play major roles in getting him into
and out of danger.
In Wilson's hands, Roy is every bit as
endearing a character as Wang.
Roy thinks of himself as an outlaw, but
he's really just a dreamer, schemer and
When he learns just how big a ransom
Wang's friends have for Pei Pei, Roy
sticks to Wang like glue.
The interplay between Chan and Wilson
gives Shanghai Noon its comic sparkle and
some unexpected pathos, especially when
their budding friendship is threatened by
the prejudice against the Chinese that
existed in the Old West.
Chan is an amazing physical comedian and
a skilled stuntman. When he combines
these two strengths, he's awesome.
Wang's battles with the Natives, bounty
hunters and arch enemy Lo Fong (Roger
Yan) are mind-boggling. Chan is a
special-effect in himself as he spins,
leaps and tumbles, all the while
delivering and receiving blows.
His charm is that he can always bring
moments of humour to even the most
What's every bit as impressive in
Shanghai Noon is that Chan proves himself
almost as adept at gentle humour. His
reactions to waking up with a wife he
unknowingly married in a peace pipe
ceremony or getting drunk with O'Bannon
In his earlier American films, Chan
relied on shtick rather than sincerity.
This time, he's really acting -- and it's
as rewarding for the audience as it is
Wilson is no slouch. He knows how to
nurse a joke for maximum effect and his
eyes say almost as much as any line of
When Roy and Chan try to escape from
jail, it's Wilson who scores the most
laughs because his reactions to Chan are
Liu refuses to let Pei Pei be the
obligatory damsel in distress. Her
princess is as strong-willed as she is
regal and her fists have a fury of their
Tom Dey's direction may be unobtrusive,
but it's clear he's in control.
He pans wide for the action sequences and
pulls in close for the more intimate
scenes. The Alberta scenery is as much a
character in Shanghai Noon as any of the
actors and Dey captures them in all their
Shanghai Noon is so endearing because
it's laughing with the classic Hollywood
western, not at it.