Monday, 25 April 2016

Shanghai Noon (4½ Stars)

It was Bruce Lee who made Chinese fighting films, usually referred to as kung fu films, popular to the general public in the west. Previously a niche market, they were elevated to the screens of the big cinemas. After Bruce Lee's premature death in 1973 the film studios were in a dilemma. How could they keep on making money from kung fu? They needed a new action star.

Within a few years, by the end of the 1970's, Jackie Chan was being promoted as "the new Bruce Lee". I watched a few of his films at this time, and even though they were reasonably good I had to say that Jackie Chan wasn't a new Bruce Lee. He had a different fighting style, and most of all he lacked Bruce Lee's intensity.

I forgot about Jackie Chan. It wasn't until I saw "Rush Hour", 20 years later, that I rediscovered him. Far from being a new Bruce Lee, he was a new Buster Keaton. Jackie was still fighting, but it was kung fu comedy. He battled in amusing ways, using unusual props to gain victory. That was in 1998. In 2000 the film "Shanghai Noon" was released. It was immediately obvious to me that "Shanghai Noon" was copying the formula of "Rush Hour", but that didn't stop me liking it. Both films are about an east-west culture clash. Both films are about an unlikely pairing between action heroes from China and America. Moreover, both films involve a kidnapping. I'll have to rewatch "Rush Hour" soon. It's been too long.

In 1881 a Chinese princess faced an arranged marriage with a man she found repulsive. She was offered help fleeing to America, but when she arrived she was kidnapped and held for ransom. Four imperial guards, including Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) travel to America to deliver the ransom money. In America Chon Wang becomes separated from the other three guards and meets an outlaw called Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson). Roy is a rogue with a good side. He robs trains, but he doesn't want to kill anyone. At first his interest is in stealing the ransom money the Chinese guards are carrying, but his noble heart makes him become more interested in saving the princess.

This is an excellent mix of wild west gunfighting and Chinese martial arts. It showcases Jackie Chan's skills as a fighter and a comedian.

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