I didn’t plan on the first three Western Movie Month reviews to all be about relatively dark, serious movies, but that’s how it turned out. While “The Searchers”, “True Grit 2010” and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” are all very good movies, the Western is capable of much more than their shared dark subject matter. Westerns can be just as fun as any other genre. That’s what I was planning for the final week of my Western Movie Month anyway, but now it feels even more important.
Also, this week’s subject isn’t a straight Western movie. It’s a hybrid Western/Martial Arts action comedy, starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. There are also elements of a “buddy cop film”, in that it pairs two very different heroes together despite their reluctance. It’s also the first live-action Western I ever saw, or at least remember seeing. This is Shanghai Noon.
The basic premise is that Chon Wang, played by Chan, is a Chinese Imperial Guard in the Forbidden City. He’s not considered to be a good Imperial Guard, but when Princess Pei-Pei is kidnapped after running away to the United States, he swears to help rescue her along with the three best Imperial Guards. On that note, Pei-Pei is played by Lucy Liu. Meanwhile, Roy O’Bannon, played by Wilson, is an outlaw who is betrayed by his gang after a train robbery goes wrong … mostly because Chon interferes.
Although my DVD copy of this movie does feature a short behind the scenes documentary, the disc is worn out enough that I had trouble playing it. Even the main movie skipped at times where it didn’t used to. Maybe it’s finally time to upgrade to Blu-Ray. My quick research didn’t find too many behind the scenes details, other than how the movie was filmed mostly in Alberta, Canada.
While the Rush Hour movies were more successful overall, I always preferred Shanghai Noon over any of them. Chan and Wilson are a brilliant comedic duo, with Chon’s overall serious nature clashing against Roy’s loose, sarcastic personality. The action takes full advantage of Chan’s creative talents, using the environment in both creative and often hilarious ways. It’s also worth noting that, while Chan was already very well-known overseas, and Rush Hour popularized him in North America, this was actually Wilson’s first lead role in a major movie.
This is a shorter review than I usually prefer to write. Without a lot of behind the scenes details, there isn’t too much to talk about without spoiling the movie. Most of the humour comes from how different Chan and Wilson’s characters are, but there’s also a lot of allusion based humour, including real world references involving character names. It’s better not to spoil those, but they’re quite clever. The cultural differences and misunderstandings also lead to some great comedic moments, while also adding up to some genuine character development by the end, for both main characters. Roy learns a sense of duty and honour through Chon, while Chon learns to loosen up and let go of his slave mindset instilled to him through Imperial Guard training.
Shanghai Noon’s director, Tom Dey, has been around for a while, but hasn’t involved himself with too many movies over the years. Shanghai Noon was actually his first, and he’s directed 4 movies and 3 TV episodes since, most recently 2022’s Wedding Season, a well-received Netflix original. Soundtrack composer Randy Edelman is much more known though, with his career now spanning 5 decades, his many other works including Dragonheart, The Mask, the first two seasons of MacGyver, the first two Beethoven movies (dog movies), Kindergarten Cop, and plenty more.
This movie does have a sequel, Shanghai Knights. While Knights isn’t quite as good, it works in the same ways. It also ups the ante with Chan’s martial arts co-ordination talents, while taking place in late 19th century England. On that note, both of them are fish out of water in the sequel, and that in itself leads to some great comedy in its own right. Both Shanghai movies are easy recommendations, even if Noon is easily the better of the two.
Next month, I’ll be looking at the Back to the Future trilogy, and I’ll wrap the month up with some sort of essay, probably about either James Bond or the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Now that it’s been over 3 years since the Sequel Trilogy ended, I’ve been able to sort through my thoughts much better. I’ve got a lot to say.
Ahhhh, I remember watching reruns of this on TV as a kid. It’s silly fun and memorable for what it was. I doubt they’ll ever revisit this movie but I am curious about the upcoming Rush Hour 4 movie though. I wonder what that will be like! It<s been a while Jackie Chan didn't figure on the first page of North American social media pages hahah
The first two Rush Hour movies were awesome. The third was … alright. It’s been so long that I’m not sure it could recapture the magic of the first two, but it’s also with a different director. Hopefully this new director can do Rush Hour 4 justice.
There have also been stories here and there of a third Shanghai Noon movie, but the last we’ve heard about it was back in 2016. it seems to be in a 15-year-long production hell.