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Shanghai Noon

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Shanghai Noon

Starring: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson
Director: Tom Dey
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: May 2000
Genres: Action, Comedy, Martial Arts


*Also starring: Lucy Liu, Curtis Armstrong, Xander Berkeley, Rongguang Yu, Jason Connery, Henry O



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

We don't look for political edge in summer films targeted to a young audience and for the most part people won't consider "Shanghai Noon" to be political. But for adults who think too much, there is indeed such a memorandum. The movie, which pits a Chinese villain against a Chinese hero, marries a Chinese superstar to an American Indian maiden, mounts an Asian champion against a bevy of American Marlboro men, and most of all insinuates a hugely successful friendship between a laid-back Southern-Cal type of outlaw and a Pekingese, serves to indoctrinate the audience into the joys of political correctness while simultaneously sending up the whole liberal notion of P.C. Though set in the 1880's, "Shanghai Noon" has a surprisingly modern feel, especially when you hear one character phrase himself with expressions like "OK" and "cool" and hear Chinese people who are in America for a brief time speaking almost perfect, Carson City English.

"Shanghai Noon" is yet another showcase for the dazzling physical performances of Hong Kong kung-fu conqueror Jackie Chan (born Chan Kwong-Sang), considered by some to be the world's most popular movie actor. At the age of forty-six he still does his own stunts and performs high kicks, rapid pirouettes, and blazing fistplay that make us question why so many athletes quit the pros before they hit their fifth decade. Having performed on the screen since 1971 in the obscure "Little Tiger from Canton" and then capturing the cheers of a youthful American public with the likes of "Supercop," "Rumble in the Bronx" and "Police Story," Chan has been compared to no less a figure than Buster Keaton. As you watch Chan's latest, which is filmed in a part of Canada that looks a good deal like the American West a decade or so after the Civil War, you can't help thinking of the Kansas-born Keaton, who got his start in a family acrobatic comedy that had the father literally sweep the floor with the child's outstretched body.

Chan likewise sweeps through his scenes, sometimes used as a mop but ultimately triumphing thanks to nothing more than the equipment he was born with and the fast-shooting of his new American friend played by the strikingly handsome and usually relaxed Owen Wilson as his unlikely pard. Though the screenplay is largely an excuse for one action scene after another, scripters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar provide their people with splashes of high-spirited wit while director Tom Dey presides over scenes of slapstick chaos. Dey opens his picture in China's Forbidden City in 1881 where during a ceremony of the Imperial Guard (something like Saddam's Republican Guard, designed to protect the god-like figures), where the esteemed princess (Lucy Liu) opposes a projected marriage to a nerd. After her tutor sneaks her out by ship to America, she is kidnapped and held for a ransom in gold. When Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) is sent by the emperor to get her back, he gets lost on his way to Carson City, Nevada, winds up with train robber Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson), and despite their initial differences in culture and temperament wind up the best of pals and partners in the plot to pick up the princess.

Aside from the occasionally sharp script, which includes lines like "Your name is Chon Wang? That's a terrible cowboy name!" "Shanghai Noon" is remarkable principally by the way the innumerable fights are choreographed without much help from the MTV department. The barroom brawls and open-air confrontations look uncommonly authentic, and yet, given the solid chemistry between Chan and Wilson, the audience can look forward to amusing exchanges during the relatively quiet intervals. Look to this movie to provide the much needed breakout for Owen Wilson--who could be compared to a young Robert Redford and used effectively in much-delayed sequels to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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