Shanghai Noon

Old West, new hat.

AMAZING STUNTS are the hallmark of any Jackie Chan film; we know that the surrounding story merely serves as a setup for the next showdown. Shanghai Noon is perhaps the least amazing Jackie Chan film in terms of stunts—so it's only, say, twice as good as most chopsocky flicks in that department—but quite possibly the best of Chan's US releases so far as character is concerned. Give a lot of credit to his sidekick Owen Wilson, who threatens to steal the show as a bumbling wannabe outlaw—much like his character in Bottle Rocket, only in chaps. Wilson and Chan have a real comedic chemistry together as the smooth talker who wants to be a tough guy and the tough guy who wants to be a smooth talker (the same formula used in Rush Hour).

SHANGHAI NOON

directed by Tom Dey with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson

opens May 26 at Metro, Oak Tree, and Pacific Place

You'll recognize the archetypal Jackie Chan character: He just wants to do the right thing and would really rather not have to go around kicking everyone's ass in such an amazing fashion—if he only had a choice. Here Chan plays an imperial guard who comes to the Old West to rescue a plucky princess (Lucy Liu of Ally McBeal). The evil mastermind behind her kidnapping also has a backstory in the Old Country and now enslaves Chinese railroad workers in the US. If that seems vaguely humorless and historically suspect, it is, but I digress.

Fortunately, Shanghai draws much of its humor—and some of its intended pathos—from cultural misunderstanding. Wandering Jackie saves a young Sioux boy from a whole gang of hatchet-wielding Crow.

The thankful chief renames him "Fights-in-Dress" (owing to his Chinese attire) and invites him to smoke the peace pipe with the tribe, which gets everyone incredibly baked—causing the Chief to exclaim, "This is some powerful shit!" This kind of goofy, cross-pollinated revisionism suits the movie just fine, if you're willing to go along with it. In an offhanded reference to the old Kung Fu TV series, a pioneer says of the Chinese, "They don't look like any Injuns I've ever seen," to which her husband replies, "Those aren't Injuns—those are Jews!"

Admittedly, the film sags a bit because of too many subplots. (It wouldn't be a Western without noble Indians, right?) Each twist must be neatly resolved—which becomes rather tedious. What carries Shanghai, though, is the warm interplay between a now middle-aged Chan and the charmingly laconic young Wilson (who betrays an obvious awe for the star). It's a welcome addition to Chan's still-amazing physicality—and makes for a winning, if sometimes silly, combination.

 
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