Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Lui, Roger Yuan, Walter Goggins, Yu Rong Guang
Fight Choreography by Yuen Biao
Directed by Tom Dey
After the success of Rush Hour Hollywood was eager to get Jackie Chan back on the big screen. Of course since they deemed his english wasn’t good he needed to be teamed up with another English-speaking actor (Jackie’s english is just fine), and Jackie had an idea about doing an american western for a while, which there is some debate about, since Sammo Hung claims he came up with the idea first, which would result in Once Upon A Time in China part 6. It was simply a question of who would reach the finish line first. The producers of Rush Hour liked Jackie’s idea and brought in Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (creators of Smallville), brought in a relatively unknown director in Tom Dey, and at that time a rising star in Owen Wilson. Would this be another Rush Hour film?
Thankfully, the answer to that is hell no.
The film begins in the Forbidden City, circa 1881, as Princess Pei Pei (Liu) arrives in what will be an arranged marriage to a local lord, so of course he looks more like an Asian John Candy , so you know that ain’t gonna work for girlfriend, and so, with the help of her english teacher, she runs away to the USA. The only one to see her is a lowly Imperial guard named Chon Wang (Chan) who dreams of being more than what he is, which is a shitty guard since he lets Princess Pei Pei escape. The Imperial magistrate receives a ransom demand for the return of the princess, and sends the ransom gold along with Chon, his uncle, and three other imperial guards. Fast forward to seven weeks later, and the guards are on a train heading toward Carson City Nevada, where the gold is to be delivered, and the audience really gets a taste of the rich cinematography that will permeate the entire film.
Soon the train is boarded by bandits led by Roy O’Bannon (Wilson) a carefree hippie bandit who is more in love with the romance of being a bandit than actually being one. Things go wrong when his newest gang member Wallace (Goggins) shoots Chon’s Uncle. Chon goes after Roy and his gang, and foils their plan to steal a safe full of money, and finds himself in the middle of nowhere after he separates the train car, and Roy finds himself in more trouble when Wallace double-crosses Roy and takes over the gang.
Meanwhile, Princess Pei Pei arrives at a rock mill, and her teacher delivers her to Lo Fong (Yuan), a traitor who used to be an imperial guard. Of course the greedy teacher wants more money, and you would think that after thousands of films made these guys would just learn to take the damn money and go, but not this douchebag. And of course, right from the Villain’s Handbook Fong quickly dispatches the teacher, and reveals to Princess Pei Pei that she is being held ransom for gold.
Soon Chon finds himself in the American wilderness, and his first real fight is a doozy against a band of Native Americans, which starts seriously but becomes comedic halfway through, which is appropriate in the terms of the fight scene. After Chon gains a wife in a hilarious scene right out of a Mel Brooks film, he travels to a nearby town and meets Roy O’Bannon again, and an old fashioned bar fight ensues, put through a Jackie Chan blender of great fight choreography. Soon Roy and Chon become allies for difference reasons to save the Princess and stop Lo Fong and his hired goons from winning the day, and discover what their true calling in life is…
Okay, this may be somewhat of a mini-rant I promised back in my review from Rush Hour, but what the hey. This movie is the anti-Rush Hour for so many reasons. For one, this is an actual Jackie Chan film, through and through. He’s the center of everything, and Owen Wilson, unlike Chris Tucker, is content to share the screen with Jackie, not trying to steal away every scene. Of course, it helps when the director doesn’t have an agenda other than to make a good Jackie Chan film (Yeah, that’s at you, Ratner. You’ve done nothing more than to make Jackie second fiddle in his own film to promote your boy Tucker.) Ratner used Jackie to get himself and Tucker into the big time, and Jackie became more and more a secondary character as the Rush Hour films go on.
Also unlike Rush Hour there is Jackie Chan-style action galore here, and moves in cadence with many of Jackie’s HK films. The best fights being the fight versus the Native Americans, the bar room brawl, and the next-to-last fight, which actually gives us what real JC fans want, a martial arts fight of Jackie Chan versus the Iron Monkey himself, Yu Rong Guang. Rush Hour’s martial arts finale? Jackie trying to hold a vase upright, which was fun, but please. You can easily see that director Tom Dey actually understands what a Jackie Chan movie actually is, which is comedy mixed with serious scenes, great stunts, and fantastic JC fight choreography, cadenced at the opening, middle, and end of the film. It’s apparent that despite the films he’s claimed to have seen, Ratner doesn’t know a damn thing about a Jackie Chan film. End of rant. At least until I get to review Rush Hour 2 and 3. Then I go nuts. I may need blood pressure pills for those.
The film is also full of veterans of martial arts films, especially Roger Yuan, a favorite actor in many Jet Li films, and funny enough he’s also in Jet’s competing east meets western, OUATIC part 6. He makes a great villain, and his two fight scenes with Jackie are good enough to show that he’s a threat that could actually beat Chon Wang. Lucy Lui does a good job as the Princess, and shows a great inner strength as the film progresses. Wilson also does a great job being, really, Jackie’s sidekick, which actually gets made fun of throughout the film. Jackie and Owen have a natural chemistry that seems forced in the Rush Hour films. Yuen Biao does a great job with the fight choreography, and look for him onscreen as a servant who loads rocks into Pei Pei’s basket.
Yu Rong Guang doesn’t get to do much, but his final fight with Jackie is a showpiece of weapon forms. Of course last but not least is Jackie himself, who does a great acting job as Chon Wang, his fight scenes are as good as ever, but what you’ll really note is how comfortable Jackie looks onscreen. He’s more confident here than he ever was in Rush Hour. I give a lot of credit of that to the writers and the director.
Shanghai Noon is a great Jackie Chan film that really encapsulates everything that makes JC so great, and is just a fun western to boot. Except for having an Uncle Cracker song, no wrong notes on this one. With the exception of one other film, this is the best of Jackie’s American output.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)
CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Yuen Biao does a great job mixing the western aesthetics with with the staples of a Jackie Chan fight scene. Roger Yuan does a great job with his fight scenes as does Yu Rong Guang. The fight vs the native americans is great.
STUNTWORK: (9) Jackie Chan speaks for himself, but the other stunt performers not part of the JC stunt team really sells everything, especially in the bar room brawl, and the escape from the gallows.
STAR POWER: (9) Jackie’s finally made a Jackie Chan movie in America, and Owen Wilson would go on to more hit films, Lucy Liu would go on to do Charlie’s Angels, and Walter Goggins is one of the stars of the TV series Justified.
FINAL GRADE: (9) An American film that can truly be called a Jackie Chan film at last. A classic western in its own right, with a fun, relatable story and great characters in Chon Wang and Roy O’Bannon.