Martial arts sequences in movies like The Matrix or even Mission: Impossible 2 can be a lot of fun to watch, but they can also end up being quite pretentious since the movies have a strong self-righteous feel to them. Jackie Chan movies imbibe such sequences with a healthy dose of humour, which combined with his charisma, gives the impression that he and the villains he's beating up are thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The latest opportunity to witness Chan's amazing fight scenes is in Shanghai Noon, the follow-up to his last Hollywood hit, Rush Hour, where he was paired with Chris Tucker. Shanghai Noon is similar to Rush Hour, in that Chan isn't permitted to carry a movie on his own, and this time he's saddled with Owen Wilson.
The story begins in 1881 in Forbidden City, China, where Chon Wang (Chan) serves as an Imperial Guard to the Emperor. After learning that the Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) has been kidnapped for a ransom, the Emperor dispatches three of his best warriors to bring her back. Chon Wang, who is in love with the Princess, also goes along, and as they enter the west, their train is attacked by a gang of outlaws lead by Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson). Their first encounter isn't on the most amicable of terms, but over time they develop a solid working relationship (with O'Bannon intent on getting his hands on the ransom, and Chan intent on rescuing his Princess).
The acting is excellent, and the "peace pipe" sequence shows Chan at his charismatic best (the subtitles at this juncture also provide great laughs). The dream sequence when O'Bannon is buried in the desert is also amusing, done in similar spirit to the ones Road Trip. (On that note, most of the gags here are based on a different kind of novel humour than in the aforementioned film, relying less on shock value and more on circumstantial absurdity.)
While Owen Wilson's acting talent has been praised (and he is good), I really have a hard time taking him seriously since he reminds me of someone who has been punched in the nose. The female lead characters are strong, including Chon Wang's wife and guardian angel played by Brandon Merrill, and are the ones that save the life of the heroes, time and again. While the sexy Thandie Newton makes for great eye candy in Mission: Impossible 2, I'd rather watch Liu and Merrill kick some serious butt any day. Missing in this film is one of those spectacular death-defying stunts commonly seen in Jackie Chan movies. As usual, the out takes at the end (which were missing in Rush Hour, are hilarious).
This is definitely a movie to check out on the big screen. While not as glitzy as some of the bigger blockbusters like Gladiator or Mission: Impossible 2, Shanghai Noon definitely ranks high among the best movies this summer.
After the mess that is The Tuxedo, Jackie Chan is back in fine form again, showcasing his tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and acting ability, while Owen Wilson shows someone who talks too much in an irritating manner can still be funny.
The film is a loose sequel to the previous pairing of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Set in the late 1800s, Chan plays Chon Wong, who is out to avenge the death of his father. Wong's father, who guarded the Chinese Emperor's Seal was killed by the smug Lord Rathbone (Aidan Gillen) and the Imperial Seal. Rathbone, who is 10th in line to throne of England, wants to get rid of all those above him with the aid of Wu Chan (Donnie Yen) who wishes to be the new Emperor of China. Rathbone has the Seal; Chan has a machine gun. Aiding Wong in his quest for justice is his old friend Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) and his sister Chon Lin (Fann Wong).
Wong and O'Bannon travel from Nevada to London to find Lin and set things right. They run across Arthur Conan Doyle (Tom Fisher), a young street urchin named Charlie Chaplin (Aaron Johnson), and Jack the Ripper (Oliver Cotton). Notwithstanding the factual errors and the anachronisms, these encounters are amusing. Together, they manage to get into fights involving nice martial arts sequences, sword fights, and comedic action scenes.
Chan and Wilson work quite well together, though I'd say the chemistry between Wilson and Eddie Murphy in I-Spy was better. The film does justice to Chan's physical acting ability; there's a scene where Chan is dancing to Singing in the Rain while fighting a bunch of hoodlums that is classic. O'Bannon's pro-America/anti-British comments are also funny. The choreography is also very good and the supporting cast do a fine job. It's clear that here, and the Rush Hour series, the film makers have clearly studied Chan's previous efforts that have endeared him to audiences worldwide.
The ending outtakes of course shouldn't be missed. In the older Chan films, these outtakes were painful (and sometimes funny) reminders of how much effort it required to get the stunts right. In most of the Hollywood Chan movies, these outtakes mostly contain goofs and flubbed dialogue. Here, there is a mix of both which I think strikes a nice balance. Shanghai Knights is worth watching on the big screen.