Shanghai Noon
review by Elias Savada, 26 May 2000

Jackie Chan, 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 (Chon 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 (

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.

Directed by:
Tom Dey

Jackie Chan
Owen Wilson
Lucy Liu
Brandon Merrill
Roger Yuan
Xander Berkeley

Written by:
Alfred Gough
Miles Millar




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