Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
Just when you haven't seen a decent spoof western since Maverick, Chinese filmmaker Jackie Chan decides to give the American west a good old fashioned kick in the pants. I'm not quite as fond of this original as I am its British sequel, but Shanghai Noon nevertheless delivers all the right laughs in the proper places. Unless you can accept completely modern-world references in a totally Civil War-era film, you won't get most of the gags... like riding over the crest of the hill and proudly gazing upon a series of electrical poles in the distance; but if you can take everything tongue in cheek, you'll probably enjoy this trip to the wild west.
Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) has refused her father's intentions to marry her off to the twelve-year-old emperor and accompanied an American tycoon back to the wild west, little knowing her companion is bent on raising a high reward for her safe return. When the Chinese are given notice of his dastardly plan, Imperial guard Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) volunteers to journey to America and recover the lost princess. Upon arrival in the States, however, he discovers his Chinese heritage has not prepared him for the cowboy wilds of a much-unsettled nation. In the meantime, Pei Pei has discovered her captor's true intentions and makes a veiled attempt at escape. Her captor, Lo Fang, owns a railroad and works his Chinese immigrants to death.
Upon his arrival to the grand wild west, Chon immediately finds himself tangling with a gang of outlaws lead by Roy O'Bannon, a wisecracking, womanizing cowboy with a certain sense of style. (Stealing isn't really stealing, and he never takes money from women or children.) The gang find themselves out of their league when faced by a group of Chinese Kung-Fu warriors and are forced to flee. The newest member of Roy's band of renegades turns the others against him and they leave their former leader buried up to his neck in the sand. Who should come along but Chon, who graciously refuses to dig him up and in return is sent on a wild goose chase in the mountains. After battling icy slopes, hostile Indians, and other dangers of the wild west, Chon finds his way to the nearest mining camp... and discovers Roy cheating at a game of poker. From there on it's a wild and humorous ride into the old west as you've never seen it before... a martial arts flick vs. good old fashioned gunfights and barroom brawls.
The two vastly different hombres soon bond together to save the Princess and have many a rootin' tootin' adventure along the way. The martial arts are, of course, fantastically choreographed. Jackie Chan has outdone himself; many of the scenes are both visually impressive and laugh-aloud funny. His talent shows through in the complexity of the fighting scenes, but also some of the in-house jokes. Jackie comes up with many of the gags for his movies. I also enjoyed the visual aspect of the costuming, particularly when it came to ancient China and some of Luci Liu's costumes. This Charlie's Angels girl proves she can hold her own in action flicks. (There are even a couple of cute reverences between the films, if you watch them back to back, like the clock tower bell plunging to the ground.) But, like all Jackie Chan films, there are some content issues to be worried about. Language is prevalent with some mild abuse of deity and common profanity (the worst being 7 s-words, and two GD's). There is a great deal of violence -- kick boxing, being spun through the air, shot at, and sent tumbling off horses, trains, and buildings; several times men and women pit off against one another. Other reviewers might call it "extreme" but I call it merely "karate." It's fantastic to watch and doesn't get too brutal.
Sexual content is what bears caution although it actually is fairly tame for a PG13 movie. Roy is shown being fanned by some hookers in a brothel. There are several instances of innuendo. The only scene which bears mentioning is with Chon wakes up in a tent beside an Indian girl after taking one drag too many on the "peace pipe." It's presumed he slept with the girl and she's given to him as his wife. (But this doesn't stop Roy from flirting with and eventually falling in love with her.) In the teepee, we briefly see an Indian painting of two horses mating, thus implying the ritual. There's also brief crude humor that involves bending the bars of the prison cell with a peed-on shirt. The ending battle also takes place in a church, which I did not find offensive but some fans might. The film hangs on a thread between good and slightly questionable; for fans of western spoofs it's an enjoyable and relatively harmless waste of time. One concern is that we're asked to root for the bad guys. Roy turns out to be a pretty good guy by the ending credits, but he still was a bank robber and outlaw during much of the film. He routinely visits brothels and shoots a lawman dead, but is surprisingly likable. There are even some good values to be gleaned. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good, the princess is beautiful. It may not have the laugh-aloud irony of Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster, but it comes pretty darn close.