review by Elias Savada, 26 May 2000
one of Asia’s most popular and enduring film stars for more than three
decades, continues his late-blooming cinematic conquest of Hollywood with this
oafish Wild West comedy, an often funny, formulaic, and sometimes bumbling,
buddy movie conjured up by producers Gary Barber (Ace
Ventura: When Nature Calls, Robin
Hood: Prince of Thieves), Roger Birnbaum, and Jonathan Glickman, the last
two having helped spawn the first U.S.-made mega-hit for Chan with 1998’s Rush
Hour. Spanning two continents and a few months in 1881, Chan plays a
stone-faced, determined Chinese Imperial Guardsman tossed up on American shores
in search of a strong-willed princess (Lucy Liu) taken from her homeland. He
hesitantly ends up pissed off (please, no Yellow River jokes) in a Nevada
hoosegow with neurotic and bone-headed bandit Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson), a
gunslinger who can’t shoot straight except by invincible karmic intervention.
If you had a nickel for every bright thought that spilled from O’Bannon’s
brain, you’d end up penniless. Told of a huge royal ransom brought from Peking
(“The Forbidden City”), Roy now has 100,000 reasons to help the dour
foreigner find a happy ending to his fairy tale action adventure. Couple that
with the fish-out-of-water cultural clashing jokes, Chan’s trademark stunt
work, some splendidly campy and serious villains and heroes, and a sprinkling of
fondly remembered Western movie references (Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Blazing
Saddles, Maverick, and, of course,
High Noon), there are enough hijinks
to earn this Memorial Day weekend release energetic marks on the laugh-o-meter
and an admirable gross of box office and humor.
On the other hand if you don’t think a drunken horse is
funny or really want to get depressed, go catch Battlefield Earth.
Chan’s take on his sad sack, duty-bound character
Wang) make the film immensely watchable, and the dime novel script by Alfred
Gough and Miles Millar (supervising producers on TV’s Martial Law) is engaging if you don’t think about it that much.
They paint an earnest Western tale featuring two ultimately gracious heroes
battling wits with two dastardly devils, the one-dimensional-ruthless Lo Fong
(Roger Yuan) and the aloof Marshal Nathan Van Cleef (Xander Berkeley). One
obvious fault is how the screenwriters drew the character of Chon’s Indian
wife Falling Leaves (the stunning model and rodeo champ Brandon Merrill). Four
days after arriving in this country, he awakens after a peace-pipe binge to find
a bride gifted to him (along with a puckish horse) by a Sioux chief for saving
one of his youngsters from six menacing Crow warriors. She says nary a word the
rest of the film as she supposedly watches (off screen) her spouse and Roy as
they fall into numerous life-threatening predicaments, then miraculously saves
their butts every time. Another problem lies in how three other Chinese
guardsmen (those carrying the gold) appear to be fighting the wrong battle
during the film’s climax.
Ivy Leaguer and AFI alumnus Tom Dey graduates from
commercials produced for Ridley Scott Associates to his first feature, an
admirable effort that focuses primarily on the rocky, raucous development of the
Wang/O’Bannon relationship set against truly realistic, widescreen period
settings. From cat-house antics to bar room brawls, Dey keeps the energy levels
light and active, occasionally wandering off into fun-packed fantasy before
reigning the audience in on a big hook baited with gotcha. Subtitles are
occasionally added by the Indian leaders questioning why their Chinese friend is
wearing a dress or talking so slowly (“as if we can understand him any
better!”). Action sequences, offered up with songs by ZZ Top, Kid Rock, and
others, keep the tomahawks, antlers, and horseshoes flying.
In the end, the best thing about Shanghai Noon remains the marvelous wise-cracking rapport between
the leads, with extended bonding sequences rising to hilarious levels, whether
O’Bannon is trying to teach his friend to shot or they drink to oblivious
excess in oaken, bubble-filled bathtubs, dousing shot after shot of rye whiskey
and playing a Chinese variation on patty cake. They quibble and quarrel, yet
manage to put the bad guys down and save the princess.
The traditional end credit outtakes are side-splitting;
they’re coming soon to the film’s website (http://studio.go.com/movies/shanghainoon/index2.html).
For those in search of a trivia sighting, check out the
Carson City signage for the hanging judge “B[ruce] Moriarty,” the film’s
First Assistant Director/Associate Producer.