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Hollywood Spotlight - Reviews [Shanghai Noon]
ORIGINAL FULL FILM REVIEW
Comedy and Action/Adventure
PG-13 (action violence, some drug humor, language and sensuality)
Alfred Gough and Miles Millar
Gary Barber , Roger Birnbaum and Jonathan Glickman
Jackie Chan , Lucy Liu , Owen Wilson , Curtis Armstrong , Sammo Hung
· Synopsis:[Recommended Reading] The Wild West meets the Far East in a battle for honor, royalty and a trunk full of gold when acrobatic Imperial Guard Chon Wang comes to America to rescue a beautiful kidnapped Chinese princess. With the help of a partner he doesn't trust, a wife he doesn't want, a horse he cannot ride and martial arts moves that no one can believe, Chan finds himself facing the meanest gunslingers in the West.
nce world conquests were on their way out the door, or at least had an extended pause, the Final Frontier turned out to be the conquest for riches and personal gain. Even today, the conquest for riches rumbles on with new millionaires being made every day and a sucker born every minute. But in this day and age it is increasingly difficult to gain such glory with increased opposition, cut-throat marketing, high-tech theft and numbers games that can make a person just plain stop trying. No, this is not the golden age of the conquest for riches - that was over a hundred years ago when the New World was freshly expanded from sea to shining sea. That was when an ounce of gold would see you eating well through a few months and all it took to get that gold was to kidnap the right people.
This spring’s hit Jackie Chan flick, Shanghai Noon is sure to captivate the imagination, spirit and life of the old West as it rises to the ultimate challenge of the timeless cliché, “East meets West.” The stage is initially set in a grand palace of the Chinese Empire within the Forbidden City where Princess Pei Pei [Lucy Alexis Liu - Charlie’s Angels: The Movie (2000), Payback, Jerry Maguire] is reared, soaks the spoils of Royalty, and learns from scholars. Chon Wang [Jackie Chan - Rush Hour (1998) and seventy four others!] is an Imperial Guardsman who secretly adores the princess, but has his hands tied by tradition and honor. Pei Pei is bound also by tradition and is to be wed to someone whom she could not love and chooses to flee the Forbidden City and head to America. But she is misled in her journey to the West and is captured by a ruthless traitor of China, Lo Fong [Roger Yuan - Lethat Weapon 4, Red Corner, American Streetfighter]. Lo Fong’s “Immigration Camp” turns out to be a place where Chinese Immigrants slave for Lo Fong in their efforts to run the railroads through the Sierra Nevadas. Lo Fong demands that the Emperor of China pay 100,000 gold pieces in exchange for the safe return of the princess. The Chinese court selects three of the finest and bravest Imperial Guardsmen to journey to America with the gold on a mission for the Princess. Chon Wang pleads with the court to allow him to join the party on the trek, and his wish is granted - as a luggage boy - not exactly an honorable station for an Imperial Guard. The Chinese entourage is ambushed while travelling by train on the last leg of their journey by bandits led by the infamous Roy O’Bannon [Owen Wilson - Meet The Parents (2000), Armageddon, The Haunting]. But the newbie to the O’Bannon Gang, Vasquez [Rafael Báez] makes a critical mistake while “winging it” and kills Wang’s uncle, a Chinese ambassador for their mission. That’s when all hell breaks loose with Wang hunting down O’Bannon and Vasquez, Sheriff Van Cleef [Xander Berkeley - Time Code (2000), Amistad, Gattaca, more than eighty appearances since 1972] chasing after the whole O’Bannon Gang (and Wang too, an assumed accomplice!), and Fong sits just waiting for all the action to arrive at his front door... didja get all that?
I have a confession to make. I am guilty of a big no-no. I went into Shanghai Noon with expectations. I thought for sure this film was going to be stupid. Cheesy humor, same old stunts, a general insult to the western film genre. Boy was I wrong! In Tom Dey’s directorial debut, Shanghai Noon presents an eclectic array of characters from all walks of life in a time where anything goes. Filmed principally in the Calgary, Alberta area, the movie breathes the spark of life into the virtual location for the Wild West, a phantasmagoric array of scenery that Dey captures elegantly. The primary cast members, having varying film career experiences, were held together in a tightly knit integration which I think brought out the best possible performances out of each and every character. Most impressive (and appropriately so) was the Chan/Wilson duo. They made a great team pair, Chan with his sheltered inquisitiveness and physical comic prowess, and Wilson with his smooth-talking sex appeal and Buddhist-style inner-voyage viewpoints. Playing sharply contrasted characters, they made perfect sense together. Lucy Liu was a marvelous addition to the cast. She created a forbidden fruit sort of regal essence, vital to the role she played. While I point these actors out, the entire cast really was quite sensational and I give them a hearty, “Bravo!” Shanghai Noon is accompanied by a beautiful, all-original musical score, composed by Randy Edelman who has produced music for over 50 films. All of Edelman’s experience cumulates into a fantastic acoustical experience that heightens and showcases the emotion and presence of every scene throughout the feature.
Now, I think that there is one thing that everyone looks forward to in Jackie Chan’s films and that is the action packed fight sequences for which he has grown to stardom. Going into the screening, I had visions of Chan using broomsticks, hammers, barrels and other primitive artifacts of the past as his fight scene props. Much to my surprise and delight, it was nothing of the kind. Chan improvises all-new fighting tricks for Shanghai Noon that will leave you stunned. In this movie, he utilizes elements both natural and artificial to rival his match - and even his match is diverse, from tribal natives, to gunslingers, to saloon patrons, to fellow martial arts masters - there is never a dull moment. Another admired facet of Jackie Chan’s performances, beyond the actual fighting sequences, are his outrageous stunts. Many would not consider the stunts terribly outrageous - until they found out that Chan himself actually DOES perform the stunts himself with no camera tricks and no body doubles. I’ve been impressed over the years with the level of physical ability and determination that Chan puts into the shots and so I was fairly surprised to see what I could only describe as a camera trick during one of Chan’s stunts for this film. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Chan’s leap from the loose caboose to the rapidly departing train seemed to be somewhat extended in duration with a switch between views in mid-jump. If Chan really did pull this jump off in one shot, then it was commendable, as usual, but with the way that that shot was taken, I immediately and uncontrollably burst out with, “No way!” [Jackie Chan has been known to make outstanding jumps in his films that are very real. One of which can been seen as he jumps from a parking complex to the side of a building’s fire escape structure in Rumble in the Bronx and another where he makes a leap atop a motorcycle from a dock onto a moving net containing cargo overhanging the ocean. - ed.] Either way, I’m sure my mental anguish over this will diminish with time. Also notorious with Chan’s flicks are the hilarious out-takes following the presentation as the closing credits begin to appear. This film is no different than the others and contains an on-slaught of gags, jokes, flubs and quirks that will leave you giggling on your way out the door.
I’m completely changed from when I entered that theater counting the minutes that I was wasting upon arrival. In all honesty, I think Shanghai Noon is my favorite Jackie Chan film yet. It has an excellent supporting cast and Owen Wilson is also awesome to watch. As Tom Dey put it, “This is not the norm for a comedy, but I felt that a story as unbelievable as ours needed to be grounded in as real a setting as possible.” Dey did a terrific job at pulling the elements of an outrageous comedy together into a presentation with a natural “realness” that made it believable. And I forgive the ultra-cheesy ending, as this is feel-good entertainment at its best.