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'Noon': How Can You Not Love Jackie Chan?

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 26, 2000

   


    'Shanghai Noon' Jackie Chan battles the Wild Wild West in "Shanghai Noon." (Touchstone)
The man is an upright puppy, a Disney Dalmatian. Look at those eyes, so eager to please. His face is a permanent grin. If he had a tail, it would be a blur of motion behind him. He'd roll on his back for you. And for a few doggie biscuits, I'm sure he'd perform any of his well-known tricks: somersaults, multiple kicks, combination punches and unbelievable stunts.

The good news about "Shanghai Noon," Chan's latest comedy, is that he turns on the charm like never before. And he's teamed with a perfect pardner: Owen Wilson, a sort of lazy, youthful Robert Redford, whose aw-shucks, laid-back timing complements Chan perfectly.

Set in the 1880s, Disney's "Shanghai Noon" takes us to China's Forbidden City, where Chon Wang (Chan) is a member of the elite Imperial Guard. When the exotic Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu from "Ally McBeal") is kidnapped and held hostage in Carson City, Nev., the emperor asks for three volunteers to rescue her.

Chon stands up but is rejected in favor of three others. But the plucky acrobat gets his chance when his uncle, the official translator on the trip, makes a special request for someone to carry his bags.

Chon is in, and we're on for a Jackie Does the Wild West comedy, where the varmints can't shoot straight, the bar clients are ornery and the cathouses are open 24 hours a day. Chan, dressed in Mandarin costume and sporting a long ponytail, kicks the dust off these Western cliches and makes them funny.

He meets Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) when the self-promoting gentleman-outlaw and his robbery-challenged gang attempt to wrest a trunk of ransom gold from the Chinese contingent.

After the robbery is botched, thanks to Chon's resistance, these two meet up again. Chon has been lost in the desert, and Roy, double-crossed by his own men, is buried up to his chin in sand, with a vulture pecking at his face.

After asking directions to Carson City, Chon (angry at the robber for the death of his uncle during the robbery) leaves Roy to dig his way out with two chopsticks.

They'll keep encountering each other, of course. But not until Chon has been adopted by the Sioux tribe, who give him the peace pipe and, to his surprise the following bleary morning, a new bride. Chon is also sporting face paint and the latest in Sioux attire.

Chon, who becomes known as the Shanghai Kid (his Sioux monicker, by the way, is He Who Fights in a Dress), joins up with Roy against a consortium of opponents, including a psychotic sheriff (Xander Berkeley), that double-crossing gang member (Walton Goggins) and the remaining three Imperial Guards, who are still trying to find the princess.

Also figuring in this farce: Princess Pei Pei's captor (Roger Yuan) and the aforementioned bride (Brandon Merrill), a sharp-shooting Sioux named Falling Leaves who takes her marital vows seriously.

The comedy is childishly simple, but thanks to Chan and Wilson, extremely funny. Both performers clearly improvised their way through the movie, and those moments are the film's best.

Only Chan – his face a font of naivete – could make a corny routine like smoking the peace pipe amusing. And the funniest scene of all occurs when Chon and Roy indulge in drinking games and soap-bubble antics, sitting side-by-side in bathtubs.

Screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar also deliver their share. At one point when Chon's trying to communicate with the Sioux, speaking slower each time, one Indian mutters to the other (in English subtitles) "Now he's talking slower, like that will help."

Anyone looking for the old Jackie Chan, the acrobatic star of those brilliantly choreographed stunt movies of yore, should return to the hipper video stores and re-rent the likes of "Police Story."

In "Shanghai Noon," his fighting scenes are relatively toned-down, almost user-friendly bouts. And there are no killer-diller stunts to savor. But if you're looking for sweetness in its purest form, then look to the Shanghai Kid. His holsters are packed with it.

SHANGHAI NOON (PG-13, 105 minutes) – Contains implied sexual situations, strong language and minor violence such as death by flying oyster shell.

 

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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