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Shanghai Noon

Ever since Jackie Chan's enormously popular Hong Kong films started to find an audience in North America in the 1990s, it seems some folks have been on a mission to deliver a bona fide Chan hit from a U.S. studio. The action/comedy Rush Hour paired Chan with the ultra-hyper Chris Tucker, and while the film had its moments, there was very little in the way of chemistry from the two leads. Shanghai Noon pretty much adopts the same premise as Rush Hour, but this time Owen Wilson (Bottle Rocket, Armageddon) gets to play the irritating American who initially distrusts but then teams up with the fish-out-of-water Chan in his journey to America. Chan plays Chon Wang (sounds like "John Wayne"), a member of the Chinese Imperial Guard who travels to America's Old West when a Chinese princess (Lucy Liu) is kidnapped by a slave-trading Chinese expatriate (Roger Yuan). Unable to make sense of the wild and rugged American frontier, Chon eventually meets train robber Roy O'Bannon (Wilson), who is on the outs with his former gang. After a few misunderstandings (and a brief visit by Chon to an Indian tribe, where he accidentally gets married), the duo track down the princess and prepare to face the bad guys. There's a lot to like about Shanghai Noon, and perhaps more for occasional Chan viewers than his most ardent fans. After all, Jackie has to work under the stringent rules of the American studio system, so the hair-raising, palm-sweating stunts that made him famous in Hong Kong will not be found here. He's also not getting any younger, which means the chop-sockey is laid on a little thin, and director Tom Dey shoots a lot of hand-to-hand stuff with more coverage than Chan has in the past as his own director, avoiding the head-to-toe framing and long takes that perfectly complement martial arts, and instead going with some MTV-style editing (so don't expect the jaw-dropping stepladder fight in First Strike to show up here). But Owen Wilson, who is asked to carry half the load, is obviously about to become one of the best light-comic actors in Hollywood. Not one line escapes his gift for delivery, alternating between annoying self-importance and sheer exasperation. The pairing here doesn't necessarily come to good effect, but Shanghai Noon will leave viewers wanting more of Wilson's hilariously self-absorbed ramblings. Good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), commentary with Chan, Wilson, and Dey, eight deleted scenes (worth checking out), seven brief featurettes (which would be more user-friendly as a 30-minute running documentary with chapter selection), two trivia games, music video "Yeah Yeah Yeah" by Uncle Kracker, trailer. Keep-case.
—JJB



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