Chop-sockey meets spaghetti western sounds like the latest in L.A. fusion cuisine. Nevertheless, when the two come together to make up the fast and funny buddy-flick that is “Shanghai Noon,” everyone leaves full and nobody ends up vomiting back at home. Finally, a movie where Jackie Chan speaks little and the non-Asian playing opposite him is more than a mouth in overdrive! Sit back and enjoy the laughs, the violence, and the urine jokes.
The movie starts in China where the bound to be mispronounced Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) is looking to get out of an arranged marriage with a piggy little betrothed better suited to be her younger brother than her man. Tricked by an American tutor to escape off to America, the Princess instead ends up a kidnapee in late 19th century Carson City, Nevada. Since Daddy’s the emperor, an elite group of guards are sent to retrieve her, bearing enough gold to choke a pony. Jackie Chan (“Rush Hour”) as guard Chon Wang wheedles his way along for the ride, harboring a crush on the missy and a penchant for less than expert bodyguarding.
Once in a America, Wang’s group ends up running into the posse of Roy O’Bannon, hilariously portrayed by Owen Wilson (“Armageddon,” “Bottle Rocket”) as he incompetently attempts to non-violently lead a bunch of bandits on a train robbing spree. One of the Chinese accidentally gets shot, our two guys get off to a rocky start, but once O’Bannon successfully digs his way out of an all-but-his-head desert burial with a pair of chopsticks on loan from Wang, the two wanna-be bad boys end up buddies in pursuit of the Princess and her loot.
While the plot of “Shanghai Noon” is nothing to write home to mom about, quippy lines and clever action coupled with the expert pairing of Wilson and Chan make for a fine ride. Finally, and interestingly enough in the hands of first-time helmer Tom Dey, a mainstream movie vehicle is powered by an actor, Wilson, allowed to retain rather than reject his indie style. Wilson’s dead pan performance (helped along by Chan’s greater reliance on physical comedy) transcends the kind of moronic yappiness that ends up making movies like “Rush Hour” so dumb.
While some Chan fans might miss the more technologically elaborate stunts that take place in modern-times films equipped with helicopters and skyscrapers galore, they can enjoy getting back to the basics here with an emphasis on good ol’ hand-to-hand fightin’. And, of course, in “Shanghai Noon” everybody still gets the real best part of a Chan movie–the outtakes at the end.