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With: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu
Written by: Miles Millar, Alfred Gough
Directed by: Tom Dey
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence, some drug humor, language and sensuality
Running Time: 110
Date: 19/05/2000

Shanghai Noon (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm pleased to report that Shanghai Noon is the best Jackie Chan movie in many moons.

In his second Hollywood film Chan teams up with Owen Wilson, the charming, cleverly slow-witted, drawling actor who graced Bottle Rocket (1996), Anaconda (1997), and The Haunting (1999) and co-wrote the screenplays for Bottle Rocket and the brilliant Rushmore (1998). Wilson makes a much better partner for Chan than Chris Tucker did in the annoying Rush Hour (1998), in which Tucker spent the entire movie trying to upstage Chan while the script creaked along behind them.

The script for Shanghai Noon is not that great either. The underlying plotline is thin but the jokes that hang on it are very funny. Co-written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who wrote the decidedly lowbrow Lethal Weapon IV (1998), the script could only have benefited from Chan and Wilson's experience and presence to flesh out its humor. Wilson in particular makes the dialogue so specifically his that it sounds as if he wrote it himself.

Like I said the plot is thin. Chan plays an Imperial guard assigned to travel to Carson City, Nevada to bring back the kidnapped Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu). A low-rent outlaw, Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) teams up with Chan against the usual sneering movie bad guys who say, "well, well, well... look what we have here!" when the good guys get captured. Poor Liu, who is so good on TV's "Ally McBeal," has very little to do here, though she does get to fight the bad guys a little.

Besides all that, the scenes with Chan and Wilson together are hilarious. Chan's character is named Chon Wang, which sounds like "John Wayne" and makes for plenty of laughs. A scene in a brothel involving a bathtub and a Chinese drinking game had me rolling on the floor. And there's a funny gimmick where Chan rescues a young Indian boy and finds himself married to an attractive Indian squaw (Brandon Merrill), who then shows up sporadically to save the lives of our bumbling heroes.

First-time director Tom Dey once worked for American Cinematographer magazine, so he presumably knows a little about how to shoot a movie. And it shows. The action scenes in Shanghai Noon are much clearer than in Rush Hour. Some shots are even held for up to five seconds as we watch Chan doing his thing as he does it so well.

Chan has at least two spectacular fight scenes, one in which he fights a handful of Indians using trees as weapons, and another involving a horseshoe tied to the end of a rope. They're not as fast or inventive as his best work -- Drunken Master II (1994), Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991, the uncut Cantonese version) or Project A II (1987), all directed by Chan himself -- but it's enough to satisfy most Chan junkies. And, like I said, it's more clearly photographed than usual. Chan also has a couple of smaller Buster Keaton-like moments (one involving a horse) that he performs in favor of any big nail-biting stunts.

This thin clothesline of a plot shouldn't be able to hold all this weight. But, Shanghai Noon has enough going right to satisfy western fans, comedy fans, action fans, and the long-time Jackie Chan faithful alike.

In 2013, Disney/Buena Vista released a Blu-ray that includes both Shanghai Noon and its sequel Shanghai Knights. The sound quality is arguably stronger than the picture quality, but both are very good, and it was lots of fun to watch these movies again so many years later. On the first movie, director Dey and actors Wilson and Chan provide a commentary track; there are several short featurettes, a music video, deleted scenes, and a trailer. The second movie has two commentary tracks, one with the director and the other with the writers. It has two short featurettes and some deleted scenes. All the extras are in standard-def, pulled from the original DVD releases.

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