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SHANGHAI NOON(director: Tom Dey; screenwriters: Alfred Gough/Miles Millar; cinematographer: Dan Mindel; editor: Richard Chew; cast: Jackie Chan (Chon Wang), Owen Wilson (Roy O’Bannon), Lucy Liu (Princess Pei Pei), Brandon Merrill (Indian Wife), Roger Yuan (Lo Fong), Xander Berkeley (Van Cleef), Rong Guang Yu (Imperial Guards), Cui Ya Hi (Imperial Guards), Eric Chi Cheng Chen (Imperial Guards), Walton Goggins (Wallace), Jason Connery (Andrews), Russell Badger (Sioux chief); Runtime: 110; Touchstone Pictures; 2000)
“This is a winning madcap comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a winning madcap comedy, enhanced by the mercurial pairing of Jackie Chan with Owen Wilson. It also features a fluid script and some irrepressible comedy routines. Though the plot of the film revisits the familiar territory of the princess being rescued tale and the idea of a buddy-buddy movie, where characters who are opposites must mesh together. It overcomes that familiarity with the energy and chemistry the two co-stars have and their ability to look good on the screen together. Jackie Chan is Chon Wang — if you say it fast it sounds like John Wayne — a screw up working in the Imperial Guard in the Forbidden City of China in 1881; while Owen Wilson is Roy O’ Bannon, a non-stop talking screw up bandit, who robs trains in the Wild West.

Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) refuses to marry the 12-year-old emperor, whom she says reminds her of a toad. When her American tutor (Connery) offers to smuggle her out of China to Carson City, Nevada, she accepts; but it is a hoax, as Pei ends up being kidnapped by a renegade Imperial Guardsman whom the American acted for, Lo Fong (Roger Yuan). The tutor holds her for a king’s ransom in gold and makes her into a slave with the other Chinese he keeps around so that the Americans can have cheap labor to build the railroad.

The Emperor sends three of his best Imperial Guards to exchange Pei for the gold, but Chon Wang talks his way into also going along to carry their bags. Chon has a secret crush on the princess. Out West, their train gets robbed by the O’Bannon gang and Chon gets separated from the other Imperial Guards. While in the woods trying to figure how to get to Carson City he saves a Sioux Indian boy from the Crow through his ability in the martial arts; and, the chief rewards him with a squaw (Brandon Merrill), and gives him the Indian name of “Man-Who-Fights-In-Dress.”

Still resolved to find the princess, Chon meets Roy O’ Bannon again and the two somehow end up in jail together. They make a shaky pact to be partners — with Chon only interested in rescuing the princess while Roy is pretending to be interested in her, but really is interested only in the gold. After they escape from jail, a ruthless and corrupt sheriff, Van Cleef (Xander Berkeley), who rides with a posse after the wanted desperadoes tracks them down; and, a series of comically inspired shootouts takes place, plus: a spoofing of the traditional Western and of Lee Van Cleef’s spaghetti Westerns, and a chance for Jackie Chan’s martial arts thing to materialize. It all takes place with much zest and a surprising amount of wit (not sophisticated but of the lowbrow kind).

Shanghai invests more time in comedy than in martial arts, using the odd-couple relationship between Chon and Roy to its maximum comic advantage. What results are well-executed pratfalls, lots of sight gags, ingenuous fight scenes, some stupid ethnic jokes and the flaunting of Indian stereotypes, but whereas those old Westerns had the bias be for real, here it’s in jest and, all the while, the film keeps the comedy rolling on. Though not all the comedy works, the scenes of Owen in the whorehouse were stale and offered the lowest kind of vulgar humor. But there is something inexplicable about the chemistry between the stars that makes this film effective and able to overcome its triteness. It was better than what I expected from a Jackie Chan Hollywood film, and credit must also be given to first-time director Tom Dey for making the film so appealing and so people friendly. It should prove well in the box office, probably reaching past its targeted teenage audience; after all, that’s what’s most important here: this is a commercial film…whose main purpose is driven by the bottom line.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”