SHANGHAI NOON, or The Wild West through Jackie Chan’s eyes. It’s impossible to get bored here

Besides the acrobatics of the Chinese star, “Shanghai Noon” offers several other attractions.


29 May 2024

shanghai noon

Cinema, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, gave us plenty of examples of buddy movies, where two characters with mismatched personalities must work together. The initial hostility between them eventually turns into friendship as the plot develops. This formula worked excellently in the case of the fantastic tetralogy “Lethal Weapon,” but screenwriters also tried creating various, sometimes very unique, duos. In 2000, Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson teamed up on screen to take viewers to the Wild West infused with martial arts action. “Shanghai Noon” emerged from the wave of popularity Jackie Chan gained after starring in Brett Ratner’s “Rush Hour.”

Chan had tried to break into Hollywood earlier, initially quite timidly in “The Cannonball Run” (and its sequel), where he got lost among the star-studded cast, then a bit more boldly in “Rumble in the Bronx,” and finally succeeded with Ratner’s film. His subsequent success in America varied, but his pairing with Owen Wilson is definitely one of Chan’s better achievements in Hollywood. Here we see a clash of two cultures – the Western one, personified by the thief Roy O’Bannon (whose real name is revealed at the end of the film in one of many nods to the audience), and the Eastern one, embodied by the imperial guard member Chon Wang. The protagonists join forces to rescue Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu). Of course, their cooperation is full of misunderstandings, and Wang’s (mainly) patience is repeatedly tested.

In a film featuring Jackie Chan, one can expect spectacular fight scenes, often with crazy choreography and the use of environmental elements. Fans of the Chinese star will not be disappointed, as the movie includes several truly spectacular fight sequences, mixed with motifs characteristic of a Western – there’s a train robbery, a brawl in a monastery somewhere on the prairie, a clash with Native Americans, and many more. All of this is presented in Chan’s typical comedic style, ensuring there’s no chance of boredom.

shanghai noon

Apart from Chan’s stunts, the film offers several other attractions. The source of comedy lies in the cultural differences. While more could have been made of this theme, there are plenty of gags related to Wang’s origins and his approach to problem-solving. O’Bannon, the thief betrayed by his comrades, is played with Wilson’s usual mannerisms – he is a lovable klutz who boasts about his greatly exaggerated skills but ultimately has a heart of gold. Together with Chan, they form a very likable on-screen duo, comparable to the one Chan created with Chris Tucker in the “Rush Hour” trilogy.

Throughout the film, one can spot numerous references to classic genre movies – including Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, “High Noon,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and others. Additionally, Xander Berkeley and Walton Goggins make appearances, and the creators included bloopers during the credits, which is another hallmark of Chan’s films. Moreover, despite a few on-screen deaths and regular fistfights, there is no brutal violence – the overall atmosphere is one of light-hearted, relaxing adventure, wonderfully accentuated by Randy Edelman’s music with a catchy main theme.

“Shanghai Noon” did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel that is equally entertaining, which I’ll write about soon. In the meantime, it’s worth checking out Jackie Chan’s take on the Wild West.

Written by Piotr Zymelka



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