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Laramie Movie Scope:
Shanghai Noon

The funniest western since "Blazing Saddles"

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 29, 2000 -- "Shanghai Noon" is a very funny western spoof, the funniest since "Blazing Saddles." Like that earlier film, it makes fun of all the Western conventions and there are numerous references to other films as well.

Jackie Chan (star of "Rush Hour") stars as Chon Wang (get it?) a lowly member of the Imperial Guard of China who sets off to find Princess Pei Pei (and if you think this film is above making fun of this name, forget about it) who is being held hostage in the wild West by the evil Lo Fong (played by Roger Yuan). Pei Pei is played by Lucy Alexis Liu, who appeared in "Payback".

There is a sub-plot about getting revenge against an outlaw who kills Chon Wang's uncle, but that is dropped as the movie goes on. The movie really gets rolling when Wang and a down-on-his-luck outlaw named Roy O'Bannon (marvelously played by Owen Wilson of "The Haunting") hook up to look for the princess. Chan and Wilson make a great comic team.

Even though O'Bannon is an outlaw, he seems to be in it to impress women more than anything else. In one scene, he stops to romance a woman during a train robbery, pointing out to her that his initials are on his gun handles. His ideas of romance, chivalry and justice are quite out of place in the Old West. He also seems to be a lot more educated than his contemporaries as he tries to explain horse and train attack vectors to his fellow outlaws. At one point, he looks at Wang, who has just come up with a hilarious idea for a jail escape, and says, "Two thousand years of civilization, and that's the best you can come up with?" Wang's notions of obedience and honor are also out of place. Both men get by with stubbornness and ingenuity. Their fish out of water act is part of what makes the story funny.

The story takes full advantage of the extreme clash of cultures by introducing American Indian culture into the mix as well. Model Brandon Merrill, playing a Sioux woman, Falling Leaves, becomes a companion to Wang and O'Bannon, conveniently appearing to get them out of scrapes, and always knowing more than she lets on. The racism of the Old West is brought up briefly. A bartender refuses to serve Wang because he thinks Wang is an Indian, and settlers mistake a group of Chinese guards for Jews. At one point Wang walks into a tavern dressed in Indian garb and war paint. He holds up a hand and says "how." Everyone in the place breaks out into laughter.

The number of references to other movies seems almost limitless, there are several spoofs of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," including the final scene, "High Noon," "Pulp Fiction," "Jeremiah Johnson" and many others. A character's name, Sheriff Van Cleef (Xander Berkeley) is a reference to Lee Van Cleef, star of many westerns. There's a wonderful horse named Fido that drinks out of a bottle and does a great drunk act, just like the one in "Cat Ballou." Brandon Merrill, by the way, was supposedly raised on a ranch in Wyoming and participated in rodeos as a youth. I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who knows whether or not this is a fact. Jason Connery, who appears in the movie, is the son of star Sean Connery.

I'd probably be remiss if I did not mention Jackie Chan's incredible stunt work in this film. Chan, one of the top film stars in the world, has always been famous for doing his own stunts. He's also famous for his physical comedy. The standard barroom brawl takes on a whole new dimension when Jackie Chan is in the mix. He is as funny as he is electrifying with his acrobatic fight scenes. Reportedly, the initial concept for this film was Jackie's, and he's always been fascinated with the Old West. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)