Review by Michael Jacobson
Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu
Director: Tom Dey
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Touchstone Home Video
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: October 10, 2000
Shanghai Noon is an effervescent western comedy, one
that deliberately winks at the audience to let them know that it’s in on its
own joke. It works largely because
of this sense of self-deflation, but also because of the amazing physicality of
Jackie Chan and the dry, comic delivery of Owen Wilson.
I’ve been a Jackie Chan fan forever, and though he may be
just a beat slower now at age 46 than he was in his prime, he’s still at least
twice as fast as any action hero manufactured by Hollywood.
Chan built his reputation by doing his own stunts and conceiving some of
the most outrageous, intricate and amazingly crafted fight and action sequences
the cinema has ever seen. When he
does an American film like this one, he may lose the opportunity to do a few
stunts here and there, but the action is the same.
Chan plays Chon Wang (say it out loud), an Imperial guard
from China who tags along with his uncle and rescue team as a baggage carrier on
their way to the American frontier. The
reason? The princess Pei Pei (Liu),
who thought she was simply escaping a forced marriage, ended up being kidnapped
by a former guard turned traitor who now runs a veritable Asian slave trade in
Their plans are altered, however, when a clumsy gang of
train robbers led by Roy O’Bannon (Wilson) attempts a heist on their train.
One of Roy’s gang members turns traitor, killing Chon’s uncle and
leaving Roy to die. Chon finds it is up to him to rescue the princess, but soon
finds himself reluctantly teamed with Roy, who convinces him that he needs his
help to survive in the west. Meanwhile,
Roy secretly has his eye on the 100,000 gold pieces the Chinese had brought with
them to ransom Pei Pei.
The teaming of these two unlikely partners creates some of
the film’s best comedy. Like in Rush
Hour, Chan plays the man of action and little words, while his American
partner, in this case Wilson, is the slick smooth talker with the motor mouth.
Roy teaches Chon how to dress, walk, and talk like a cowboy.
Well, sort of. And, of
course, before it’s all over, Chon will have taught the renegade Roy much
about honor and duty. After kicking
a great deal of butt first, naturally.
As in most of Chan’s films, the plot is a thinly drawn
guideline that propels the movie from point A to point B and beyond, and serves
up excuses for action and mayhem along the way. But there is a script improvement here, in allowing for
verbal comedy to mix in with the slapstick.
This is the element Owen Wilson brings to the mix, and as a result, the
chemistry between the two leads is winning.
And sure, Jackie fights, but he also has his other comic moments, like
when he tries to get help from some Indians.
“Where is Carson City?” he enunciates carefully and deliberately.
The Indians remark (with subtitles), “He’s saying it slower now.
Like that makes a difference.”
I found a lot in this movie that seemed to allude to
earlier Chan films. An early fight
with a spear was reminiscent of the climax of Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin.
The way he leaps a tree, only to have it snap back and take out an
opponent reminded me of a stunt that was planned but never filmed for First
Strike. There’s even a bubble
gag straight from Drunken Master II (currently in theatres as The
Legend of Drunken Master). And,
an early scene of Roy using his sketches to go over the crime plans with his
gang reminded me of what Owen Wilson had done in Bottle Rocket.
Am I suggesting a lack of originality at play?
Not at all. These moments,
like the film as a whole, seem to be just another wink and nudge to let the
audience have a little more fun with it.
I would have liked more action from Jackie…that is my
only real complaint. He has a few
spectacular scenes, and to watch him perform is to marvel at the same kind of
artistry Fred Astaire showed when he danced.
But this film, in trying to strike a balance between the comedy and the
action, tipped the scales a little too far in favor of the comedy.
Which is fine…the film offers plenty of laughs…but you tend to go
into a Jackie Chan movie with some expectations, and this picture, though
entertaining in its own way, doesn’t meet all of them.
Still, as a long time fan, I’m happy to see Jackie
finally earning the recognition he deserves in this country; the recognition
he’s enjoyed universally as the world’s greatest and most popular action
star. America will never truly know
what she’s missed by waiting until the man was in his forties to embrace him
as a star…the fact that older Chan films like Drunken Master are
earning theatrical releases today is proof of that…but I’m still betting
that Jackie has plenty of good years and films in him, and as long as movies
like Shanghai Noon win the hearts of new fans and critics alike, we can
at least say “better late than never”.
This anamorphic transfer is stellar, and ranks among the
best I’ve seen from the Disney companies!
For starters, the west is beautifully photographed, and these images
render gorgeously on disc. The
skies are deep blue, the grass is green and detailed almost to the individual
blades, and everything from start to finish is sharp and crystal clear, with the
detail reaching back into even the deep focused shots. I noticed no evidence of grain, haze, shimmer or any
other form of transfer problems, and the print itself looked pretty immaculate.
What’s amusing is that when I saw this film theatrically, I wondered
why it had such a dark look to it. The
answer was that it didn’t…this disc is proof of that.
This is actually a bright, sunny movie, and it looks better on disc than
it did on the big screen. Outstanding!
The 5.1 soundtrack is every bit the equal to the video in
terms of quality. Right from the
start, the music swells and relaxes with strong percussion, and the score opens
up the full listening stage from front to back, enveloping the listener.
The full stage stays open from start to finish, too.
There is always sound coming from the rear channels, as well as excellent
balance level and flow as the sound moves from front to rear channels.
Dialogue is clear throughout, and the front channels operate to create a
full range for it, utilized the three speakers in a terrific mix.
In other words, it’s not just the action that will remind you that you
have 5.1 sound!
Again, Disney earns high marks, with one of their most
impressive feature packages. The
highlight is a commentary track with Chan, Wilson and director Tom Dey, which
was recorded separately but edited together seamlessly, and for a nice audio
touch, Chan’s voice comes from the center speaker, while Dey and Wilson are
channeled left and right, respectively. I’ve
always wanted a Jackie Chan commentary, and listening to these three guys was
both informative and entertaining…a real treat.
Then there are seven deleted scenes, a good behind-the-scenes featurette,
a couple of nicely done interactive games with full video, an “Action
Overlooked” short film about the making of the movie’s most exciting
sequences, and a music video by Uncle Kracker.
A terrific package!
If Shanghai Noon as a film is a real crowd pleaser, as a DVD it’s even more so. This is easily one of Disney’s best overall offerings in terms of quality and extras—you couldn’t really ask for better!