Shanghai Noon
directed by Tom Dey
(Touchstone, 2000)

It's no surprise. Jackie Chan movies are always, if nothing else, a whole lot of fun. He's got an energy and a comedic timing that rivals the greats, not to mention that whole martial arts thing that he's got going. The man is like a hummingbird, never sitting still for too long, and is never above poking fun at himself ... qualities that make him more fun than a barrel full of pandas on crack.

Shanghai Noon is quite a vehicle for Chan. Not only does he get to exercise those comedic muscles, he gets to do it in a setting that's pretty original, crossing genre lines with as much ease as to make it look effortless.

Chon Wang is a member of China's Imperial Guard, a trained fighting force of the emperor's men. From the way the others see him, it's relatively obvious that he's only there by the grace of his uncle, an ambassador. When Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu), who Jackie seems to have a thing for, albeit unrequited, runs away with a handsome man to America, and her ransom note is received, three of the Emperor's best men are sent from the Forbidden City to Carson City, Nevada, to trade the gold for the girl.

Surprisingly, Chon isn't one of the ones picked. He's only going along to carry his uncle's bags. That is, until the train is robbed, leaving his uncle dead -- which sends Chon out to avenge his uncle's death AND rescue the princess from her captors. (Its slapstick quality is reminicent of "I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!")

The supporting cast in Shanghai Noon seems to center around the train robber who becomes Jackie's friend, Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson). Roy's a screwup, and not all that bright, despite his oddly asynchronous chivalry. (During the initial train robbery, he reprimands one of his men, telling him, "We don't steal from ladies!" ... and then proceeds to mack on her.)

The chemistry between Chon and O'Bannon is fantastic. I don't know where they found this guy, or if it's the actor or the fantastic material he was working with, but there's a fantastic dynamic between the two. They play off each other with rapid-fire puns and a sort of Old West excitement that's just plain fun to watch.

"What's your name?"

"Chon Wang."

"John Wayne?? What kind of a cowboy name is that??"

Also, don't take a bathroom break during the scenes where Roy is teaching Chon the "way of the cowboy," so to speak. Pause it, stop the tape, get your drinks later, whatever. It's like the blind leading the blind. Or the idiot savant leading the chinese imperial guard.

There are two things I want to point out about Shanghai Noon that made me respect it on a slightly deeper level than the fun aspect. I would have loved it anyway, but these few points made me want to own the movie instead of just seeing it.

First, there are Native Americans in the movie. Duh. It's the Old West. However, far from being portrayed as savages or speaking that god-awful, "How! Me want wampum for horses or we kill your women!" talk, the Indians are probably the smartest, funniest characters in the movie. There's a scene where Chon rescues a prominent part of the unnamed tribe from the Crow, and they're celebrating. They've dubbed him "Man-who-fights-in-a-dress," due to his robes, and married him off to the chief's daughter. Chon keeps asking, sometimes slower and louder, as we tend to do when talking to someone who doesn't understand our language, "Which way to Carson City?" The chief looks at the adviser and says, "He's speaking louder now. I still have no idea what the hell he's saying."

"Pass him the peace pipe," the adviser says. "Maybe that will shut him up."

Second, I would have been disappointed if the writers/directors had shown Asians or Chinese immigrants just standing around in the Old West, having a grand ol' time. It bypasses the very serious way the Americans used the Chinese for slave labor on the railroads, and sort of insults people's intelligence when they make errors of omission of this type. Luckily, there's none of that here. They showed the slave labor and the backbreaking work for no pay. And they managed to do that without being nearly as preachy as I'm being in this paragraph.

At no point during this movie was I ever bored or did I ever find my attention lagging. And that's saying a lot -- I'm harder on movies than I used to be. As always, Jackie Chan has made a movie that doesn't ever let up -- it's either a lot of martial arts buttkicking, or it's a hilarious slapstick dialogue that left me giggling until my sides hurt. This is a keeper if I've ever seen one.

Shanghai Noon is a great movie. Period. It's funny, it's responsible, and best of all, it's more of Jackie Chan doing what he does best -- being a complete nut. I'd highly, highly recommend picking it up at any time. You just simply can't lose with this one.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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