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Shanghai Noon
cast: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu, Xander Berkeley, and Jason Connery

director: Tom Dey

106 minutes (12) 2000
Buena Vista VHS rental

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Michael Brooke
Jackie Chan's second big-budget Hollywood feature is, at least in terms of the basic formula, virtually a re-run of his first, 1998's Rush Hour, both being fish-out-of-water buddy-buddy comedies that pair the action maestro with an American wise-cracker, in this case Owen Wilson. Chan plays Chong Wang (any resemblance between this name and the sound of a Chinese person attempting to pronounce the name of a certain legendary movie cowboy is of course a complete coincidence), who is part of a team assigned to guard Princess Pei Pei during the latter's trip to the US. Needless to say, this all goes disastrously wrong, the Princess is kidnapped by an evil Imperial Guardsman, and Chong is left stranded in the middle of nowhere with only his ingenuity and considerable martial arts skills to help him.
   Although not a patch on his Hong Kong work - Chan's trademark suicidal stunts have been stymied both by increasing age (believe it or not, he's nearer 50 than 40) and the far more stringent safety requirements laid down by Hollywood insurance companies - it's still a lot of fun, thanks to a genuinely witty script, terrific chemistry between the two leads (Wilson in particular is something of a revelation) and an abundance of anachronistic and role-reversal gags (only the terminally PC will object to the racial jokes, which are in the same harmless spirit as everything else).
   Connoisseurs of recent Hong Kong cinema will notice that there's a more than passing resemblance between this and the Sammo Hung directed Jet Li vehicle, Once Upon A Time In China And America - indeed, the characters, setting and plot are virtually identical - but Shanghai Noon improves on its model in several ways: if the action scenes are admittedly less elaborate, it's rather more satisfying both as a comedy and as a portrait of the Old West, whose Chinese element, although historically accurate, has been largely ignored by the cinema until now.
   The only minor disappointment, particularly in the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and indeed earlier Chan vehicles like SuperCop (aka: Police Story 3), is that the women get little to do: Lucy Liu is wasted as the Princess, while Chan's Indian bride barely registers as a personality: her only defining characteristic is a truly remarkable ability to be in the right place at the right time to spring her careless hubby from whatever scrape he might have fallen into. But this is quibbling: when set against a run of dismal summer blockbusters last year, Shanghai Noon at least lived up to expectations, and maybe even surpassed a couple.


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