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'Shanghai Noon'

Jackie Chan goes Wild West in politically incorrect 'Shanghai Noon'

Friday, May 26, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Jackie Chan! Your prolific career has taken you from Hong Kong martial-arts movies to supporting shticks in the "Cannonball Run" flicks to box-office stardom in America! What are you going to do now?

'Shanghai Noon'

Rating: PG-13, for action violence, some drug humor, language and sensuality.

Players: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson.

Director: Tom Dey.

Web site: www.shanghainoon

Critic's call: 2 1/2 stars.


Would you believe "F Troop"?

The Hekawi Indian tribe, or at least their spiritual cousins, turn up in Chan's latest film, "Shanghai Noon," which affects the amiably inane comedic tone of TV's old Western sendup.

Chan portrays Chon Wang (try saying it in English, Pilgrim), a bumbling attendant to China's Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu). Displeased with the royal lump selected to become her husband, she flees to America and falls into the clutches of the evil Lo Fong (Roger Yuan), who sets out to blackmail her father, the emperor.

Chon Wang worms his way into the group of Imperial Guards sent to rescue her. In America, a motley gang of robbers attacks the train they are riding. Chon gets separated from his comrades. So does the inept leader of the thieves, Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson).

The two wind up as unlikely partners. Chon wants to rescue the princess. Roy wants the gold meant for her ransom.

At this point, the plot becomes less important than the camaraderie. Roy and Chon seal their friendship in side-by-side bathtubs at a brothel, where they proceed to get stinking drunk. The scene lasts twice as long as it should -- first-time director Tom Dey, working from a screenplay by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, doesn't know when to quit. Equally interminable are the string of gags in which Roy tries to teach Chon how to be a real cowboy, as if he had a clue.

Then there are the scenes with the Indians. Chon rescues one of them from a rival tribe. When he sits down to smoke the peace pipe, there is the usual confusion when neither side understands what the other is saying. We in the audience get the benefit of subtitles. Those crazy Indians aren't quite ready for the Borscht Belt but they could certainly find work as the opening act in a reservation casino somewhere.

They are as anachronistic as they are politically incorrect, much like the movie itself, which sniffs around the perimeter of the racism that helped win the West but doesn't want to spoil the fun by becoming relevant.

So we get the usual Jackie Chan mix of broad humor and chopsocky action. Jackie's getting a little old for this but he still holds his own in the stunt department. The main set pieces are the train robbery, a fight in a bar and the big finale -- another scene that goes on forever -- in which Chon and Lo Fong square off. Even the princess gets in a few licks. At least the movie is progressive in one regard. The heroes keep being saved by an Indian maid.

The real pairing, though, is Chon and Roy, the burlesque Butch and Sundance. Danged if they don't wear us down to the point where they become likable. Roy just won't shut up -- Wilson displays an air of annoying smugness tempered by a naivete betrayed by his quizzical demeanor.

Chan, of course, has made a career out of self-deprecating humor and martial-arts skill. "Shanghai Noon" falls right into the pattern, taking affectionate potshots at the Western genre along the way.

Oh, and you know how the Hekawi got their name, don't you? Their chiefs led the tribe in search of new hunting grounds. Months, even years go by. Finally, they gather the tribe together and the chief says, "Where the heck are we?"

I bet Jackie Chan wishes he'd thought of it first.

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