as reviewed by Skylaire Alfvegren
Is it mere coincidence that just as Congress is about to vote on granting China permanent normal trade status, along comes Jackie Chan, China's top box office draw, to dazzle American audiences in a hilarious neo-western, the likes of which haven't been seen since Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles?
I think not. Granted, Chan did the whole East-meets-West thing in Rush Hour, as a Chinese detective partnered up with the rather intermidable Chris Tucker. But Chan has brought that same Eastern archtype–bound by honor and duty–to the wild west with much greater comedic effect.
A group of Imperial Guards have been dispatched from the Forbidden City to lawless Nevada where their Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) is being held for ransom by traitorous ex-guard Lo Fong (Roger Yuan, looking like he just stepped out of an ad for Skyy Vodka). When the train they're riding on is hijacked, Chon Wang (Chan) fends off the bumbling outlaws before falling off the train in the middle of nowhere.
After leaving the gang's leader Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson) to dig himself out of the desert with a pair of chopsticks, Wang heads for Carson City, only to encounter less than sympathetic frontiersmen. O'Bannon and Wang end up in the pokey after tangling in one of the silliest bar brawls in all of filmdom, escape to rescue the princess (and presumably her ransom of gold).
O'Bannon has to remind the Shanghai Kid (as Wong has been dubbed by crooked lawmen after the Imperial ransom) that he's in the West. But it's Wong's martial arts that get the pair out of numerous scuffles. Chan, who's famous for doing his own stunts, makes fabulous use of pine trees, horseshoes and various Western accoutrements, while Wilson's existentalist slacker cowboy can't shoot a horse at five paces.
Shanghai Noon not only pokes fun of the conventions of traditional westerns (in the teeth of cowboys, Chon Wang is pronounced "John Wayne") but explores the prejudices minorities faced in the old west. Wang and Wilson represent East and West, their alliance proving we can all work together for a greater, funnier good.