|No need to request
of Jackie Chan, in his first western,
that he smile when he says something:
Chan is always smiling. It's his
trademark, that friendly, almost
poignantly open face, so attractive and
compellingly decent that it seems not to
go with the whirling acrobatics of his
world-class kung fu moves.
The Chan charm is put to good use in the
slight but amusing "Shanghai
Noon," which ambles through a
not-terribly-well-thought-out plot that's
more like a series of Mad magazine
parodies of great moments from the
Its primary joke is as follows: Chan, in
some kind of weird Chinese outfit (by
cowboy standards), attracts derision and
contempt from the macho cowhands or Crow
warriors who encounter him. They assume
because he is dressed so strangely that
he's a wuss. They assault him, and he
kicks butt royally. It's a primitive
recipe but always effective.
What is the weakest form of humor? The
pun, so naturally the movie uses puns
badly twice. The first is in its
title--"Shanghai Noon," which
alludes to "High Noon" in a way
that suggests nobody affiliated with this
picture has ever seen that picture. Then
there's Chan's character's name, which is
Chon Wang, pronounced "John
Wayne," to which his
on-again-off-again buddy Roy O'Bannon
(Owen Wilson) says, "That's no name
for a cowboy."
And that's pretty much the level of humor
throughout. The comic relationship
between the two is based on Chon's
ignorance of the West, which demands the
mentorship of Roy, who's really a kind of
con man eager to take advantage of the
little Asian but also coming gradually to
admire his luck and pluck.
The plot is a wisp. The daughter of a
Chinese lord is abducted from the
Forbidden City (the Disney company
actually obtained access to that site for
this meek little movie; oh, the power of
the Mouse!) and taken to America for
ransom by an evil Chinese aristocrat
(Roger Yuan). Three Imperial Guards are
sent to pay the ransom, and Chon Wang,
who loves the princess (played by Lucy
Liu of "Ally McBeal"), goes
along as luggage bearer. But during a
train robbery, he is separated from the
official party, links up with Roy and
goes his own way.
For a time, the movie plays like a
picaresque saga of the Old West, similar
in its way to "Little Big Man"
or "How the West Was Won" or
even the darker masterpiece "The
Searchers." Chon is attacked by
Indians (who appear to have their own
martial arts training) and then adopted
by Indians and acquires a lovely Indian
bride (rodeo champ Brandon Merrill, with
whom the movie could have done a lot
more). This sequence is actually the
movie's best, and it comes too early. But
it plays neatly with the nobility of the
Plains tribes, revealing them to be not
poetry-speaking profiles against the
horizon but regular down-and-dirty guys
who call Chan "He Who Fights in a
Teaming reluctantly with O'Bannon, Chan
moves through a town phase that plays
some games with the evil lawman theme of
good-natured O'Bannon against an evil
lawman named Van Cleef (a homage to Lee
Van Cleef, an American B-movie actor who
had a run of stardom in the mid-'60s
Italian westerns). Finally it moves on to
a railroad construction setting, similar
to "Once Upon a Time in the
West." It covers the territory, you
The best martial arts sequence is the
climax, which pits Chan against Yuan in a
dusty mission steeple, and it's a zinger.
On his worst day, Chan is still an
extraordinary fighter with unbelievable
speed and dexterity, and the glum memory
of poor T. Cruise assaying martial arts
expertise in "M:I-2" only
highlights how good this guy is.
Wilson, something of a Robert Redford
look-alike, is occasionally funny, but
his modern-guy shtick grows thin much
sooner than young director Tom Dey
realizes. The film does have one great
pleasure too long missing from the
screen: the spectacular landscape of the
West in the magnificent background, with
men on horses with guns and hats
thundering across the foreground. I could
look at that all day.
Los Angeles Times
John Huang? East collides with west
in Jackie Chan's 'Shanghai Noon'
By ROSS ANTHONY
East meets wild
west in Jackie Chan's Hollywood latest.
Chan, who's as
cute as a toddler in a bathtub, teams up
with Owen Wilson, a Seinfeld rambler with
a quick tongue and golden smile. The
pairing works like a charm. In fact, the
film nearly blew the top off the theater,
save for a few quirks and the standard
fight scene ending.
(Princess Pei Pei) is kidnapped and held
for ransom in Carson City, Nevada. Chan
and three other imperial guards are sent
from China to rescue her.
Wilson's gang of bandits rob their train,
derailing the original plan.
But, after the
midpoint, the production becomes more of
a sequence of wonderfully original and
funny scenes than a coherent piece.
It's too bad,
because had the filmmakers been able to
keep both those barrels focused, the shot
would have been a double bull's eye.
Still, in a season not graced by many
good films, that one-barrel packs a
powerful bullet. I had a great time!
I'd first seen
Owen Wilson in a little film called
"Bottle Rocket" a couple years
back. He was as outstanding then as he is
now. I'm confident "Shanghai
Noon" will give him the recognition
know karate, but I know Ka..razy and I
will use it." Of course, Jackie
continues to be lovable - how could you
not like this guy?
cinematography and music are solid. Even
the script is wonderful - save for the
climax. Not that it was bad, it's just
that a marvelous cast of characters had
been created and built up well; the
climax failed to utilize this huge
Wilson's uncommonly rich standoff with
the sheriff, the rest of the climax plays
out as you'd expect (in contrast to the
freshness of the rest of the film). And
then to top it off the resolution goes
Best to have
ended the film on a freeze frame -
depicted in the picture above.
short of what it could have been,
"Shanghai Noon" still kicks
butt. I recommend it heartily.
San Jose State
West Is East
Jackie Chan kicks a hole in the old West
in sweet 'Shanghai Noon'
By Richard von Busack
IN THE SEASON of overproduced, gross,
foot-in-the-groin type films, the
cleverly titled Shanghai Noon has
sweetness and grace to it. Tom Dey's
direction is low-key and funny. And Owen
Wilson (Bottle Rocket and the hopeless
Minus Man) is the best partner Jackie
Chan's had since he came to America.
Shanghai Noon goes on too long, but all
is forgiven because of the efforts of the
two stars. The film isn't about how cool,
but how essentially gentle and eager to
please they are. Today's buddy comedies
always seem to be a contest between two
actors to see who can bellow the loudest.
Chan's self-mockery is well known,
though, and the self-effacing Wilson
never seriously loses his temper.
Wilson plays Roy O'Bannon, the most
courtly of gentleman train robbers,
unable to maintain resentment even at his
henchmen who buried him up to his neck in
the desert--Roy chalks the unpleasant
incident up to frontier humor. The plot
line is a version of the frog-prince
fairy tale, with Chan as the frog. Chan
plays Chon Wang, a member of the emperor
of China's Imperial Guard who joins a
trio of agents trying to ransom the
emperor's daughter (Lucy Liu), who was
taken across the ocean to Nevada as a
slave. The emperor's chief of staff
decides to let the inept soldier Chon go
on the search to America. After the
polite bandit O'Bannon robs the train on
which Chon is riding, the two team up.
Chan doesn't move like he used to, but he
can still kickbox, and Shanghai Noon
features some exhilarating matches. In
one scene, Chon skirmishes with a troop
of Crow warriors; and the final battle
between Chan and the towering villain
(Roger Yuan), which takes place in a
half-constructed church bell tower, is as
astonishing a sequence as anything Chan's
ever done. Shanghai Noon has PG-rated
language and even a pot joke. But the one
really dubious moment finds Chon waking
up married to an Indian chief's daughter,
played by Brandon Merrill. No doubt the
film took this material straight from the
awful comic-relief scenes in The
Searchers, since one of the running gags
is that Chon Wang's name is misheard as
The other sources are as easily read: Jet
Li and Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in
China and America, Keaton's The General
and Sergio Leone. Yet Shanghai Noon
displays a core underneath the candy.
Late in the movie, Roy says something
petty to please a girl at a bordello.
She's wondering why he's riding with a
Chinaman, and Roy denies his friendship.
Chon, unseen, hears through the window.
While we realize this is only a
screenwriter's device to get the heroes
separated for a time, the insult gives
texture to the buddying. It reveals the
deep fear by Asians, and by all people of
color, that under the right circumstances
their white friends might betray them.
And the real anger Chon shows when Roy
jokes about the Chinese man's queue is
also a remembrance of how the Chinese
were mistreated in America.
In between the gorgeous Sierra scenery
and Chan's combination of physical magic
and comic modesty, the East-meeting-West
undercurrents give Shanghai Noon
backbone. Chan is what movies once were,
and I guess Tom Green is what movies are,
but the happy note is that Chan, though
aged, is still alive and kicking.
to Jackie Chan interview part I