Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movie Review: Shanghai Noon 3 ½ Stars

Shanghai Noon may just be one of the greatest martial arts comedy westerns of all-time. The story is compelling enough on its own to make a good (albeit overdone) action flick, but Shanghai Noon is laugh-out-loud, wet-yourself funny. Of course, the film is chock full of Chan’s trademark slapstick kung fu, but it also packed with jokes that come out of nowhere and even bits that you see coming, but still giggle at. This is the Jackie Chan American audiences should know and love.

Sort of a funny Kung Fu without all the flashbacks and super slo-mo fighting sequences, Shanghai Noon stars Jackie Chan as Chon Wang, a bumbling Chinese Imperial Guard in the 1850’s, who requests to be sent to Carson City, Nevada to rescue Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu). His request is granted, but his services are not needed as a warrior. Instead, he serves as a bagboy to the three other Imperial Guardsmen who plan to liberate the princess from the clutches of slave trader Lo Fong.

Along the way, Chon Wang encounters Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson), a cocky trainrobber. Impressed with Chon’s fighting style, and more impressed with the 100,000 gold pieces earmarked for the princess’ ransom, Roy recruits Chon as a partner, and the two become dubious allies in a series of hilarious and harrowing misadventures.

Even though this is a buddy film, Jackie Chan is the finally the star of his star vehicle. As a matter of fact, Shanghai Noon is a “finally” film. The always funny Owen Wilson finally gets his major motion picture kickstart -- he was utterly wasted in last year’s summer suckbuster, The Haunting -- and Lucy Liu finally plays something other than the Dragon Lady.

Shanghai Noon is far from perfect -- the ending(s) are about as hackneyed as they come -- but it is fun. And that’s exactly what a martial arts comedy western should be.

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