Is there a Kung-Fu fighter in Hong Kong or Hollywood who enjoys himself as much as Jackie Chan? Even at forty-six, Chan takes his punishment with a smile, and his joy is infectious. Chan scored big-time at the box office with 1998’s Rush Hour. It was a fish-out-of-water farce that paired him with comedian Chris Tucker as an L.A. cop assigned to baby-sit Chan’s Hong Kong detective on a job to rescue the kidnapped daughter of the Chinese consul.
Shanghai Noon is basically the same plot, with Chan cast as Chon Wang (sounds like John Wayne, get it?), a Chinese imperial guard on assignment in the Wild West to rescue the kidnapped Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu, wasted in a nothing role). Instead of the glib Tucker, Chan is teamed with the drawling Owen Wilson as train robber Roy O’Bannon. The Texas-born Wilson, who co-wrote the cult hits Bottle Rocket and Rushmore with his director pal Wes Anderson, reportedly improvised a lot of his own dialogue. Wilson is flat-out hilarious, playing this cowboy like a surfer dude zapped back in time. On a train, Roy flirts with a babe he’s just held up at gunpoint. “You’re scared, but you’re also excited?” he asks. She nods. Encouraged, Roy tells her how yesterday it was so hot he robbed a train naked.
It’s such comic moments that lift Shanghai Noon above the herd. What a shame that director Tom Dey, making the switch from commercials to features, favors frenzied camera movements that wreak havoc with Wilson’s timing and Chan’s acrobatic grace. Still, watching the stars survive a ramshackle plot is a slap-happy treat. And stay put for the out-takes after the film ends – the bloopers are funnier than anything else in the picture.