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JACKIE CHAN RESEARCH PROJECT


Las Vegas Weekly
Screen: East vs. West

Though Jackie Chan is his normal funny, fist-happy self, he seems out of place in Shanghai Noon


By Ulf Buchholz (ulf@lasvegasweekly.com)
Most of Jackie Chan's films, all of them comedies, gain their comic effect from an exaggerated tension and lack of understanding between Eastern and Western culture. Shanghai Noon takes this level of misunderstanding to new heights--with mixed success.


Chan is a Chon Wang, (amusingly pronounced much like John Wayne) member of the Imperial Guard in 19th century China. When the princess (Lucy Liu) is kidnapped on his watch, he volunteers to help deliver the ransom to Carson City, of all places.

As bad luck would have it, Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson, in a hilarious turn) and his gang of thieves rob this particular train. Roy is actually a rather good-natured fellow who's loathe to hurt a fly, much less another human being. Unfortunately, there's a new guy (Walt Goggins) in the gang, with great ambition and an even greater desire for violence. He shoots a member of the Chinese Imperial Court and tries to do away with O'Bannon.

SHANGHAI NOON

Director: Tom Dry

Stars:
Jackie Chan,
Lucy Liu,
Owen Wilson

Grade: B

Details: Opens Friday

Rated (PG-13)

Click here to find showtimes

The film seems to lack direction in these opening scenes: The usually strong choreography of Chan's fight scenes leaves much to be desired, coming off as rather standard fare enlivened only by predictable jokes about why Wang is wearing a dress, O'Bannon's inability to shoot a gun properly--which might be the root of his almost gentle behavior--and the difficulty of communication between two different cultures as Wang is forced to marry an Indian woman after saving the chief's son from being killed by Crow warriors. Throughout the rest of the film, Wang's "wife" looks out for him, saving him from certain death time and again.

Wang becomes a wanted man following a series of rather awkwardly handled circumstances: He encounters O'Bannon in a bar and exposes him as a poker cheat. A fight breaks out and Wang finds himself in the same cell as O'Ban-non, likely to be hanged by morning. But they manage to break out and Wang becomes the Shanghai Kid--against his will. The lure of gold convinces O'Bannon to join forces with Wang in his search for the princess. Meanwhile, three other members of the Imperial Guard are on their way to safely deliver the gold to the kidnapper, a disgraced former guard himself, who exploits his fellow Chinese immigrants as laborers on the railroad he's building.

Midway through, Shanghai Noon and director Dry seem to find their strides. Helped along by the engaging and often very funny relationship between Chan and Wilson, the film kicks into a higher gear. And the fight scenes, which are ultimately what people come to see a Jackie Chan film for (it certainly can't be his delivery of mediocre lines in that thick, sometimes impenetrable, accent), bring some originality to the flick.

As everyone converges on the railroad camp where the princess is being held captive, Shanghai Noon even develops some real suspense, a welcome surprise. The princess has decided not to return to China, feeling that she can be of more help to "her people" in America. Once the gold is recovered, the Imperial Guards insist on taking her back and a long battle between the forces of good and evil--represented here by East and West--takes place.

While entertaining enough, Shanghai Noon ultimately demonstrates that Chan is a thoroughly modern actor who feels out of place in a Western. Much like Will Smith in Wild, Wild West, Chan seems to always be looking for a tall, glass-covered building from which to leap, or the hood of a speeding car to hold onto. Lacking modern technology and the speed that it implies, Chan seems to move in slow motion here, which makes Shanghai Noon somewhat less satisfying than Chan's previous films.


Edmonton Sun
Dey dawns in the West
Shanghai Noon sequel touted

By LOUIS B. HOBSON, CALGARY SUN


For Tom Dey, making his feature film directing debut with Shanghai Noon (opening today) could have been an intimidating experience.

It was a pet project of its star Jackie Chan.

Chan had been talking for years of making a western about a guard from the Imperial Palace of China travelling to the Old West.

To play Chan's sidekick, Disney had cast Owen Wilson, the young Texan who had not only starred in Armageddon, The Cable Guy and Permanent Midnight, but had co-written Bottle Rocket and Rushmore.

The film called for large groups of Asian and native North American extras as well as experienced cowboys and a horse that thinks it's a dog.

"With potentially daunting elements like this you have to utilize rather than fight them," says Dey in a phone interview from his apartment in New York. "The moment we had a solid screenplay based on Jackie's concept (producer) Roger Birnbaum and I flew to Hong Kong to meet with Jackie. He was excited and volunteered additional ideas."

Chan and Wilson eventually met four months before Shanghai Noon was scheduled to shoot in Alberta last spring.

"It was a disaster. They just didn't understand each other. Roger and I were devastated but almost from the moment they arrived in Calgary, things began turning around. They soon became very close friends and incredible collaborators. What Jackie brings to physical comedy, Owen brings to comic dialogue."

One of the film's funniest scenes has Chan and Wilson playing a Chinese drinking game.

"One night we went out with Jackie and his Chinese stunt men for a karaoke evening in Calgary. The more they sang, the more they drank and they began playing this really fast-paced game. Owen and I just looked at each other. We knew we had to incorporate it into the film."

Though Chan had always wanted to play a cowboy, he was actually afraid of horses.

"Jackie had never ridden a horse so we sent him off to a ranch to be trained. Fortunately for us he's a quick learner. Once he felt secure he insisted on doing all his own riding and horseback stunts."

Chan's horse in the film had to be able to sit down on command and drink a bottle of whisky.

"The idea was that Fido was more like a dog than a horse. We had to use two separate horses to get all the stunts we needed."

Disney was so excited with the early footage of Shanghai Noon that the studio commissioned a sequel even before Dey had finished shooting the original.

"Everyone had ideas for a title, from Shanghai After Noon and Shanghai Midnight to Shanghai Plains Drifter," recalls Dey. "The sequel doesn't have a title yet but the concept is to turn it into more of an action-adventure comedy than a western. It's going to have more of a feel of an Indiana Jones movie."

"If they'll have me I'd love to direct the sequel. I had so much fun working on this first one."


Bubbling Over With Fun -LA Times
Western-style 'Shanghai Noon' pairs action master Jackie Chan and surfer-dude Owen Wilson in a comedy with lots of kicks.

By KEVIN THOMAS, Times Staff Writer

The hilarious, knockabout "Shanghai Noon," Jackie Chan's best American picture to date, breathes fresh life into the virtually dormant comedy-western. It also marks the relaxed and confident directorial debut of Tom Dey, working from a consistently funny, inventive and perceptive script by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, whose previous major screen credit was "Lethal Weapon 4."

     To top off all these pluses, Chan has a sensational sidekick in Owen Wilson and a beautiful and intrepid leading lady in Lucy Liu. All in all, it's a kick in more ways than one.
     The film opens like "The Last Emperor," in Beijing's Forbidden City in all its vast grandeur, pomp and ceremony. It's 1881, and the exquisite Princess Pei Pei (Liu), who's been reading "The Sleeping Beauty" in English and longing to live happily ever after, resists being married off to the emperor, a goofy 12-year-old.
     She naively allows herself to be spirited away by a young Briton (Jason Connery) who delivers her to an evil ex-Imperial Guard, Lo Fong (Roger Yuan), who runs a Nevada mine with Chinese forced labor. He sends word that the princess' safe return depends upon receiving a treasure in gold. Imperial Guardsman Chon Wang (Chan) winds up in a party dispatched to Carson City to ransom the princess.
     Mayhem comes fast and furious when the train carrying the Imperial party, dressed in their elaborately embroidered silk robes, is held up by rowdy bandit Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) and his really nasty henchmen (headed by Walter Goggins). O'Bannon, a tall, rangy blond guy and a classic western good-bad man, and the rugged Chon strike up a wildly seesawing relationship, squaring off repeatedly but with O'Bannon gradually ending up Chon's sidekick.
     Roy is much amused when he finally learns Chon's name, which comes out of his mouth sounding like "John Wayne," a name O'Bannon finds comically inappropriate for a frontiersman. (Never mind Roy's real name.)
     When Chon, in one of his literally countless grand flourishes of martial arts, rescues a small Sioux boy from some Crow warriors, the Sioux chief (Russell Badger) treats Chon to a peace pipe so powerful that he finds himself waking up the next morning betrothed to the chief's gorgeous daughter (Brandon Merrill).
     "At least he's not a white man," shrugs the chief philosophically, in one of the film's amusing multicultural asides.
     Chan and his colleagues must have decided at the outset to have some fun while engaging in the hard work an action-filled western demands. (It's an attitude that has always permeated Chan's films.)
     Gough and Millar have created a sterling script that allows Dey, a seasoned commercials director, to keep things moving along with a spaciousness that inspired zaniness demands. The script is good-natured yet sharp, filled with deft characterizations like Wilson's Roy, who comes across like a laid-back California surfer dude who's both reckless and canny.
     In its own lighthearted way, the film is quite candid about racism on the frontier, which older Hollywood westerns rarely, if ever, were. There's an essential dignity, too, in the depiction of the Chinese and a respect for their ancient traditions, even if the regal but independent-spirited Princess has no intention of returning to her cloistered existence.
     One dazzling feat of derring-do follows another, defying descriptions in the speed and bravura of Chan's martial artistry, in particular, and in all the action sequences in general. Yet the moment that just could become a classic finds Roy and Chon getting drunk while soaking in adjacent tubs in a fancy brothel and singing the craziest songs you'll ever hear.
     No action picture is complete without just the right setting for the big showdown--in this instance, the dashing and virile villains Lo Fong and crooked sheriff (Xander Berkeley), whose name is Van Cleef, surely an homage to the great heavy Lee Van Cleef. It happens to be a fine old Spanish Mission-era church, with a belfry put to the best use since Hitchcock shot "Vertigo" in a similar tower structure.
     For all the easy-going quality of "Shanghai Noon," it is a work of impeccable craftsmanship, with splendid cinematography by Dan Mindel (with Alberta, Canada, standing in for Nevada) and impeccable costumes by Joseph Porro and faultless production design by Peter J. Hampton; period authenticity often goes out the window in comedy-westerns but not here. Randy Edelman's score rounds out the buoyant, effervescent delight that is "Shanghai Noon."
     * MPAA rating: PG-13, for action violence, some drug humor, language and sensuality. Times guidelines: The action violence is martial arts make-believe and unusually nongraphic; all other elements are mild.

     'Shanghai Noon'

     Jackie Chan: Chon Wang
     Owen Wilson: Roy O'Bannon
     Lucy Liu: Princess Pei Pei
     Roger Yuan: Lo Fong
     A Touchstone Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment presentation. Director Tom Dey. Producers Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber and Jonathan Glickman. Executive producers Jackie Chan, Willie Chan and Solon So. Screenplay by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar. Cinematographer Dan Mindel. Editor Richard Chew. Music Randy Edelman. Costumes Joseph Porro. Production designer Peter J. Hampton. Art director Brandt Gordon. Set decorator Bryony Foster. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
     In general release.

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