Jason ConneryLucy LiuXander BerkeleyJackie Chan
Shanghai Noon
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Tom Dey
Writer: Miles Millar, Alfred Gough
Keywords: Shanghai Noon, Western, historical
Language: English, Mandarin [occasionally], Sioux [less than that], Spanish [or so says imdb]
Country: USA, Hong Kong
Actor: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu, Brandon Merrill, Roger Yuan, Xander Berkeley, Rongguang Yu, Ya Hi Cui, Eric Chen, Jason Connery, Walton Goggins, Adrien Dorval, Rafael Baez, Stacy Grant, Kate Luyben, Henry O, Russell Badger, Simon Baker
Format: 110 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0184894/
Website category: Other
Review date: 19 April 2012
It's okay. It's nothing to rush out and watch, but I enjoyed more of it than I didn't and I'm thinking of watching the sequel. Roger Ebert says lots of good things about it, although the movie he's comparing it with is Wild Wild West.
It's not a Hong Kong movie, by the way, but a Hollywood one. It's the "Chinese goofball in the Wild West" movie with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. We start out in China's Forbidden City in 1881. Lucy Liu is a princess who doesn't want to marry her father's chosen husband for her. Fortunately Jason Connery (yes, him) is on hand to help her escape to America, where there's no chance whatsoever that everything won't go according to plan! Ahem. Before long Daddy's sending three warriors to bring her back, plus Jackie Chan.
Jumping over to the Wild West, we find Owen Wilson leading a gang of bandits. Wilson is charming in a silly way and clearly unsuited to his chosen profession of outlaw, swindler, thief, etc. He tries to rob a train nicely. He chats up girls while doing so. I was ready to hate Wilson, but in fact he's a good-natured, easy-going chap whose motivations for being a desperado are unclear. He thinks it's a laugh. He likes being cool and doing cool things. He's under the impression that he can shoot (he can't) and it's impossible to hate him for long, no matter how much you might dislike his character's chosen career path. Wilson puts a lot of charm and energy into the role and even manages to hold his own against Jackie Chan, despite the fact that Chan is a wonderfully entertaining performer with a screen persona that's rightly been compared with the old great silent movie stars. (Chan himself has cited Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as influences. Imagine them, but with martial arts.)
I liked the cast. They're good. Chan is always a pleasure to watch, Wilson is doing strong work too and it's all light and entertaining in the right way. Even the model and rodeo champion who's never acted in anything else before or since (Brandon Merrill) is never less than impeccable, although that said I notice that she's massively underused and says almost nothing in English. Maybe she was saved in the editing? However that's unfounded speculation, which without further evidence the good lady doesn't deserve.
As for the story, it's fine. It ebbs and flows. I liked China, but soon afterwards there's a cliche villain bit with Roger Yuan and Jason Connery. I rolled my eyes there. Wilson's train robbery didn't greatly engage me, being a train robbery, but Jackie Chan is always cool... and then we hit Red Indians and the film immediately becomes far more entertaining. Suddenly we're getting proper Jackie Chan fight scenes, followed by a funny plot development that introduces what might be my favourite character in the movie. Why didn't we have more Brandon Merrill? Anything involving her is far more interesting than Wilson's wibbling and it's my biggest gripe with the movie that Merrill gets sold down the river. She's short-changed. They introduce her character, then shove her offscreen as often as humanly possible. Admittedly Merrill could never have competed with Chan and Wilson when it comes to making a scene sparkle as a performer, but I dislike the way they turn her into an ongoing deus ex machina, then eventually trample on the plot development that made her cool in the first place.
The dialogue's 98% English, but there's also a bit of Sioux and Spanish as well as Mandarin. I'll eat my hat if the Native American actors were all fluent in the Sioux they were speaking, though.
Not everything here holds up to scrutiny. Isn't Jackie Chan (born 1954) a bit old to be mooning after a princess, even if she's played by Lucy Liu? Why do Chinese characters start speaking English even among each other once they're in America? Why couldn't the filmmakers resist the temptation to call a bad guy Van Cleef? Why do Wilson and Chan visit a cathouse? (At this point the film hasn't officially disowned the Merrill plot development.) However these are just niggles and there are just as many things that made me smile, such as Chan's physical gags (e.g. sword-spinning, horseshoes), the Chan-Merrill sign language, the horse-talking and the "spit in hand". It's a blast just seeing Jackie Chan tearing up the Wild West in a ceremonial Chinese outfit. We also see outtakes at the start of the closing credits, which is amusing.
I suspect I'd prefer this to the Rush Hour films, although I don't have any beef against those either. Overall, it's perfectly okay. It's a bit uneven, but it entertained me. If you're looking for martial arts comedy, Jackie Chan's the man. Wilson meanwhile isn't just another Ben Stiller-style goofball, instead being an actor-screenwriter who's acted for Woody Allen and Wes Anderson. Lucy Liu's beautiful, talented and here having a particularly high-profile year, also doing Charlie's Angels as well as being in the middle of her run on Ally McBeal.
I imagine I'll watch the sequel, Shanghai Knights, if only since it visits Victorian London. Don't go out of your way to see this, but there's no need to change the channel if it comes on TV either. It has its moments and I'm sure everyone involved was rightly pleased with the results of their efforts. They succeeded at what they were trying to do.
"I guess this is what you people call sayonara."