Shanghai Noon

  • Directed by Tom Dey (Directorial Debut)
  • May 26, 2000 (US)

An Imperial Guard from the Forbidden City travels to the American West to rescue a kidnapped princess and teams up with a train robber to take on a Chinese traitor and his cohort.

Shanghai Noon is a fun old fashioned Western comedy. This came out at a time when Jackie Chan was working hard to be a dominant force in Hollywood films. It also came out a time when Owen Wilson was a very big thing in Hollywood. Both work well off of each other and create a great mismatched duo.

To be honest Jackie Chan tends to work well when he is paired with anyone. Maybe he’s just one of those talented actors that can create chemistry with whoever he’s with. He and Wilson craft a reluctant friendship that both characters have difficulty excepting that is happening.

Jackie Chan is a very duty bound and honor driven character named Chon Wang–a homophone for John Wayne. In a joke similar to Back to the Future III Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson) remarks that John Wayne, which is what his American ears heard, sounds like a terrible name for a cowboy.

Owen Wilson as O’Bannon is a lot like the characters he usually plays. He’s a bit of a free spirit and maybe a little aloof who just happens to be a train robbing outlaw but could just as easily be anything else. He is not a tough thug but rather very mellow and easy going.

Much of the humor in Shanghai Noon relies on cultural differences. But it’s not just the difference between Roy O’Bannon and Chon Wang. Maybe you could even think of the jokes as based around cultural ignorance. The Imperial Guards are ignorant of American ways. Settlers mistake the Imperial Guards for being from other cultures. The Sioux are perplexed by Chon Wang.

My favorite moment is when Chon Wang encounters the Sioux and he’s trying to get to Carson City and he says it slower and the Sioux in their language say, “Now he’s saying it slower as if that’s going to help.” It’s just funny.

I am not a big Lucy Liu fan. I will come right out and say it. I absolutely hated Ally McBeal and any ill feelings I have towards her stem largely from that. However she’s very good in this movie. Princess Pei-Pei is the usual reluctant princess character who seeks to escape the burdens of being royalty. Personally I would be running towards that shit but that’s just me.

However Princess Pei-Pei is made into a character who is just seeking a different life. She wants to help people and feels that being royalty would limit her from doing so. Lucy Liu gets you to believe that the character actually cares about the common person. More importantly she gets you to believe that she has an attraction, even if it’s minor, to Chon Wang. She views him rather affectionately.

Chon Wang early in the film accidentally marries a Sioux woman early in the film. Not an uncommon joke in Westerns. The weird thing is his Sioux wife, Falling Leaves (Brandon Merrill), is just kind of handed off to O’Bannon at the end of the film with little explanation.

Roger Yuan plays Lo Fong, a traitor who fled the Forbidden City and masterminded Princess Pei-Pei’s escape which actually turns out to be a kidnapping. Xander Berkeley is Lo Fong’s righthand man Marshal Nathan Van Cleef. They do a pretty good job of making Berkeley look like Lee Van Cleef with Berkeley himself emulating the actor.

The action is great, but the story also is very entertaining. The humor isn’t necessarily sophisticated, but it is stuff that still resonates across generations. The dialogue is witty. The direction is solid but most importantly the villains are threats. To be invested in any story you need to feel that the baddies are a threat and not just jokes.

The costuming and sets do not look like they cut corners. Westerns are no longer an important or worthwhile genre to Hollywood and too often they are done on the cheap if they are done at all. I know this came out a little over 20 years ago but the same issues now were prevalent then.

Shanghai Noon stretches from the Forbidden City in China all the way to Carson City in Nevada. I don’t know if that’s a default place that people creating Westerns like to go to but it seems like a fairly common city that gets used. I’m not busting on it. I’m just curious if the use here might have been some kind of tip of the hat to the Westerns of the past.

Shanghai Noon is a fun and very entertaining buddy action film. It has laughs and a great story and I guarantee you will love this!

Published by warrenwatchedamovie

Just a movie lover trying spread the love.

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