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Cowboys and Indians

Jackie Chan goes western in Shanghai Noon

The Jackie Chan movie formula, equal parts Bruce Lee skill and Charlie Chaplin physical comedy, worked for over two decades abroad, but in America, after the more indifferent reception of dubbed Chan flicks like Supercop and Operation Condor along with the surprising success of Rush Hour, it's safe to say the ingredients have changed. Shanghai Noon, Chan's latest, follows up Rush Hour in this new, modified action movie equation: Jackie Chan + Comic Sidekick + Standard American Genre equals = Comedy, Action, and Millions. The only real surprise of Shanghai Noon, essentially a "Just Add Jackie" western, is that as formulaic as it is, it still works.

The story here, unnecessary though it may be, goes like this: Chon Wang (Chan), a t.ple guard of the Forbidden City of Beijing, goes to America in search of a runaway princess (Lucy Liu)- Wild West America, that is. Along the way to Carson City, where the princess is held captive by an evil former guard (Roger Yuan), he runs into Roy (Owen Wilson), a bungling, wannabe cowboy and, after a few rough introduction scenes, they team up to save the princess. Along the way, they befriend an Indian tribe, bust up a saloon, break out of jail (in a rather disgusting way- you'll either groan or laugh when you see how the prison bars are bent), take on a posse of lawmen and a maniacal sheriff, and Chan's character earns his nickname -- you guessed it -- "The Shanghai Kid." Nothing groundbreaking here from director Tom Dey-- just kung fu, cowboys, and light-hearted humor.

The thing is, as much as you want to hate Shanghai Noon for its general lack of creativity, Jackie Chan is still a dazzling action star, and Owen Wilson, who you may have last seen (whether or not you admit it) in The Haunting, is surprisingly good in the comic relief role. Even if Wilson isn't quite Chris Tucker-funny, and thus, watching him teach Chan how to be a cowboy doesn't play out quite as well as watching Tucker teach Chan to dance in Rush Hour, his natural naiveté works well in the delivery of obvious lines like, "There are some things that are wrong, and stealing a princess is just wrong." Whether he's plotting strategy on a map drawn in crayon, accidentally dynamiting a safe, or showing off his guns to a woman in the middle of a train robbery ("Yeah, it's got my initials right there."), Roy is a lovable idiot. The chemistry between him and Chan keep this movie floating between the action scenes.

And with not all of the comic burden resting on his shoulders, Chan's usual allowance of amazing moves wows us as it should, in sequences like the saloon fight, where Jackie makes a Fred Astaire-like climb up a wall, and in the fight with the Indians, where spears, pine trees, axes, more pine trees, other members of the tribe, teeth, and a bone are all used as weapons. Playing a sterner character than usual, Chan doesn't get as many laughs by himself this time around (the bloopers reel of this movie is even shorter than normal -- didn't his moves with a horseshoe tied to a rope wreak some havoc?), but he definitely gets in his share of creative violence.

Shanghai Noon is unlikely to leave any real lasting impression upon its audiences, and it might not match Rush Hour's level of comedy, but if nothing else, it proves Jackie Chan's lasting power , and maybe even in the western's lasting power as well, no small feat considering last summer's Wild Wild West. Let's just hope Chan doesn't discover film noir next.


Shanghai Noon
rated PG-13
1 hour 50 minutes

Jackie Chan
Owen Wilson
Lucy Liu
Roger Yuan
Walton Goggins