Not since Mel Brooks’ hilarious Blazing Saddles has there been such an outrageous Western as Shanghai Noon. Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson make the perfect odd couple in this action-packed comedy about the kidnapping of a Chinese princess during the mid-1800s.
Chan (Rush Hour) plays a member of China’s Imperial Guard sent to America to bring the princess (Lucy Liu) back home. Motivated by duty, honor, and a strong sense of responsibility, he unwittingly partners with Wilson (The Haunting), a bumbling outlaw more interested in gold than in the Golden Rule. As usual, Chan’s Kung Fu clowning worked its magic on me, keeping me amused and astonished during his remarkable martial arts scenes.
But Wilson is the big surprise here. He’s incredibly funny as a cowboy who can’t make a life of crime work for him, yet still suffers from delusions of adequacy. His off-beat character is a cross between Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run. Writing much of his own dialogue, Wilson says such comical lines as "John Wayne is no name for a cowboy" (after Chan tells him his name is Chon Wang).
Nothing succeeds like excess, so instead of just one dastardly villain to hate, Shanghai Noon gives viewers three of them. That adds to the fun, of course. Roger Yuan (Red Corner) is particularly menacing as the greedy and powerful kidnapper. Xander Berkeley (Air Force One) projects steely-eyed evil as a psychotic sheriff. The third bad guy, a sadistic outlaw played by Walton Goggins (The Apostle), is just downright mean. Naturally, they all get their comeuppance.
Yes, all the cliché Western scenes are included in this spoof of the genre --- from saloon brawls and lynchings to train robberies and Indians. But here’s a switch, the Indians are the good guys (and gals). And what would a Western be without horses? In Shanghai Noon, a very special horse steals a scene or two from the great Chan. Trainer Claude Chausse taught the animal, called Fido, to sit on his haunches just like a dog and to drink a bottle of whiskey for one sequence.
Jackie Chan movies always feature fast-paced action as well as humor. Shanghai Noon is no exception. In particular, Chan’s closing struggle in the bell tower of an old church is a masterpiece of comic timing and physical activity. Knowing that Chan performs all those daring stunts himself makes a scene like this even more exciting.
Kudos to first -time director Tom Dey and to writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Lethal Weapon 4) for their fine work on this entertaining film. It’s an old-fashioned, rollicking good time.
(Released by Touchstone Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment; rated "PG-13" for action violence, some drug humor, sensuality, and language.)