Film Commentary [6-2-00]
Kung Fu Cowboy - - Shanghai Noon
Genre: Comedy/action
Grade = B+


Shanghai Noon - never ride an alcoholic horse
This season's action comedy is a bang. Our favorite martial arts action star Jackie Chan has decided to mix martial arts action with the American western. It's fun for all.

Chong Wang (Chan) is a member of the Imperial Guard of 1881 Imperial China who has a secret crush on the Emperor's daughter Pei Pei (Lucy Liu), who is lured to runaway to America by her English tutor to avoid an arranged marriage. The Emperor is informed by letter from the tutor that she has kidnaped and taken to Carson City, Nevada and he can have her back for 30,000 pieces of gold.. With three other imperial guards and his uncle in command, Wang leaves for Carson City with the ransom to retrieve her.

Naturally, on the train in California they are held up by an outlaw gang lead by gunslinger Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson), who is in fact the worst shot in the West. Wang's uncle is killed by one of the bandits who also betrays O'Bannon, leaving him to die in the desert. Wang heads out after them. After a series of misadventures, including ending up ‘married' to an Indian chief's daughter, Wang meets up with O'Bannon and they join up to find the missing princess.

This is of course a complete ripoff of the old Mifune Tishiro - Charles Bronson film Red Sun (1971), substituting a Chinese Princess for the Japanese Imperial sword. It is also exponentially funnier. What makes the film work is its star Jackie Chan. Unlike virtually all other martial arts stars, he simply does not take himself seriously at all. Other martial arts stars act like tough guys and spend a lot of time scowling and looking mean and of course rarely miss a kick or make themselves look bad. Chan, inventor of the comedy martial arts film in Hong Kong in the early 1970s, plays a good natured but very fallible fellow who not only misses most of his kicks, but also falls on his ass. But at the same time being very likable and earnest.

As with his other films, Chan mixes his great action with slapstick humor. This time, in the old west. Bar fights involve complicated stunts with Chan being attacked, not by other martial artists (where in most martial arts action films, everyone knows kung fu), but by drunken cowboys who attempt to punch him, hit him with chairs or throw bottles at him. He in turns defends himself with spectacular jumps, twirls and a pair of moose antlers and generally gets the crap kicked out of him. What a breath of fresh air. He also wields a wicked horseshoe on a rope to beat up on some deputies trying to arrest him in one of the most inventive martial arts scenes I've seen in years.

Much of the humor also involves his co-star, Owen Wilson, who plays his character as a sort of sensitive fun-loving would-be desperado. His interaction with Chan portrays a chemistry rarely developed in most ‘buddy' films. An example of this chemistry is shown in a hilarious scene were the two play a Chinese drinking game while soaking in adjacent bathtubs. It must be seen to be believed.

As with all Jackie Chan movies, the ending credits contain outtakes from the film. Surprisingly, Jackie did not suffer a serious bodily injury during filming and they merely showed the dialog and action goofs. What, no injury? I feel deprived.

All in all, a fun movie. Chan is the 2000's answer to Buster Keaton.


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