Jackie Chan. These are the operative words. If you like Jackie Chan, you already have a differing level of standards for evaluating his films. Is he better as a solo act, as in First Strike? Or is it more fun to see him distilled with an American partner, as in Rush Hour? With the latter film, Jackie’s trademark fight scene ballets and personal safety-flaunting stunts were fewer, but his comic ability was used more. With First Strike, it’s death-defiance after death-defiance, with an interesting but secondary plot. Shanghai Noon pairs Jackie with the wildly underappreciated Owen Wilson, who is damn funny, in the Wild West. Shanghai Noon has a lot of sly, modern winks, fish-out-of-water gags, and some pretty cool fight scenes. Upon recent reviewing of Rush Hour, I would have to say that Noon is a more successful blend of American cinema and Jackie’s trademark action.
I must interject that the use of bad modern metal to “punch up” scenes that would have been adequately rendered with pure score left a bad taste in my mouth, but I am grateful to acknowledge that at least it was really only one scene that went flat for that usage. Wilson is a funny guy – and his nice-guy bad guy, cocky and sardonic, is a great role for him. I hope now more people know who he is and cast him more often. He’s a better comic foil to Jackie’s brand of smiling, innocent-savant humor than showboating Chris Tucker was. Oh, did I mention there is more Jackie-style fighting than we have seen in a while?
After the visually impressive but otherwise silly debacle of Wild Wild West, it was nice to see that it was the story and not the setting that can’t be swallowed – Shanghai Noon’s Old West is dusty and deadly and filled with peril. Native Americans get some pretty good presence as well – with some great big scenes of riding and fighting and warring. But the real meat of the movie is Wilson and Chan, friends and foes, fighting to rescue Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) from the bad, bad man who has her. The chemistry was good enough that you leave thinking, “I’d like to see more of them together,” but the basic truth is that a sequel would be a terrible idea. Enough to let us laugh at the anachronistic jokes and gape at Chan’s trademark death-defying stuntwork.
The sad truth of these new American Jackie Chan movies (the first being Rush Hour, NOT Rumble in the Bronx, which was shot in like, Australia or something) is that American studios recognized the wretched dubbing/acting of his native-made forays, and doubt Americans’ ability to forgive the acting just to see Jackie break his ankle for real – so they beef up the story until there is no time to have a sudden, random fisticuffs with shopping carts and jump ropes and pumpkins and so on. Additionally, the USA has some oppressive views about insurance and liability, and just won’t let Jackie get into positions where he might get hurt – although doesn’t it seem we have a lot of stunt people getting killed recently? “Oh but they’re only stunt people.” American’s want to be wowed, and I believe Jackie Chan fans are more wowed by him scrabbling up a glacier with his bare hands than seeing a lookalike dragged on a wire across an abyss with a cushion below him. Knowing just by looking all the safety that was packed around Jackie takes away the magic that is his skill as a performer. Not that I want Jackie to be hurt! Outtakes where he flies through a hole in a ladder and misses by a bit versus outtakes where he cracks up because he can’t pronounce Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity kind of take the edge off his style of entertainment.
Don’t let my regret at the repression of Jackie’s glorious insanity stop you from seeing Shanghai Noon – go and enjoy it and then rent some of his Hong Kong films if you never have and you will see just what I mean.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/26/00
Time in minutes 105
Director Tom Dey