An exotic East meets the quixotic West, that's what you thought about Shanghai Noon. It's more like the stuffy East meeting the muggy West. This one has more than just racial stereotypes. It bases its premise on defunct cultures and characters that would be history-book material. The only thing that can impugn the above statement could be the dispute that at least one of these cultures never existed. Indeed, the plethora of tribes, imperialists and anarchists (cowboys) would almost qualify this one as a 'period' movie. So, what actually comes out of this racial hotchpotch? A lot of idiosyncratic humor, of course!
Jackie comes from a land where they swear by their hair and on their knees. The land happens to be China (which other?). He is a slave to its Imperial regime, whose princess has been kidnapped and taken to the Wild West (where else, again?). Isn't this getting a touch repetitive in his movies? Anyway, our man accompanies a team to deliver the ransom - a trunk of gold -, all the way. Here he runs into a gang of cowboys, headed by Roy (Owen Wilson). After some initial skirmishes where they kill Jackie's uncle, and he, in turn, botches their heist, everyone is thrown of their paths. Roy is ditched by his gang, and Jackie is all by himself.
They still manage to run into each other, not once but twice. But before this, Jackie 'wins' a wife and a horse, and a large tribal family to boot. Nevertheless, the stage is set for the rescue operation and Roy joins in with his eyes on the gold.
The film manages to entertain, due in main to Owen Wilson. Just like that of Chris Tucker's in Rush Hour, Owen's role does a lot to salvage the movie from being just another Jackie Chan movie. His relaxed demeanor is the perfect foil for the once-more upright and stiff Jackie. The cowboy jokes are definitely a notch better than the Chinese ones.
This just makes us wonder, where would Jackie be without these good samaritans? Not far, if only the makers decide to give him much more rope with regards to action sequences. There is hardly anything that we haven't seen from him earlier. The well-choreographed stunts appear all too predictable - ducking, swaying and jumping out of the path of weapons is what he has been doing since as far back as we can remember. And will someone please help him decide where he wants to be - East or West?
For all its misplaced cultural peculiarities, Shanghai Noon still gives
the viewer a kick, and a more appropriate one than the 'Big Western' got according
to the posters.