Shanghai Noon (12)
THERE are some movie genres that were seemingly born to be parodied.
Over the years everything from gangster thrillers to horror chillers have been given the spoof treatment, particularly at the hands of people like Mel Brooks, who did the only decent western spoof worth a damn, Blazing Saddles.
Now, a quarter of a century later, comes Shanghai Noon, a comedy western which stays just on the right side of straight, thereby avoiding overt parody, but which nevertheless embraces all of the traditional western gags which made Blazing Saddles such a giggle.
The tale takes an imperial guard from 19th century China on a rollicking journey through the American West after Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu from Ally McBeal) is kidnapped from The Forbidden City by an Englishman working for a Chinese gangster.
The guard, Chon Wang (Jackie Chan, replete with 3ft ponytail), a stranger in a strange land, reluctantly pairs up with Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson, from The Haunting and Armageddon), a not particularly desperate desperado who appears more mouth than pistol, to find her.
As another of Chan’s bigger-budget ventures into Hollywood vehicles fitting his astounding martial arts agility, Shanghai Noon could have been little more than just a painting-by-numbers effort designed to showcase Chan’s physical dexterity.
It’s not. That was done perfectly acceptably in Rush Hour, when his co-star was motormouth comic Chris Tucker. In Shanghai Noon, it’s Owen Wilson who grabs all the best lines and comic moments, while Chan seems content to take a back seat, easing his frenetic style of action comedy into the plot.
That’s not to say this is a film without holes; there are plenty. What director Tom Dey and scriptwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar succeed in doing is transforming a run-of-the-mill plodder into a first-rate comedy western.
Numerous moments bring a ready smile. The rescue of an Indian chief’s son results in Chon marrying the thankful chief’s daughter and nicknamed ‘Man Who Fights in Dress’ by the rest of the tribe. The peace pipe scene is priceless.
Then there’s the moment where Roy decides his travelling companion should have a real cowboy monicker, and asks Chon for his name. His reaction is gut-bustingly funny.
Finally, wait for the bit where Chan breaks out of prison using the only tool he has – his urine. It might sound bizarre but it’s a blast on screen.
Shanghai Noon is an intricately crafted piece of quasi-spoof cowboy comedy which grabs all the old cliches and uses them in a way audiences of all ages can understand. True to Chan’s credo, there is no bone-crunching violence, no profanity – nothing, in fact, to offend.
And with knowing winks to everything from obscure flicks like the ‘samurai western’ Red Sun through to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Pulp Fiction, even Granddad can have fun following the clues.
A fabulous piece of entertainment, and hugely enjoyable.