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I love Jackie Chan movies. Even if the plot is confusing or the characters are flat, I love them anyway because Chan’s amazing stunts and graceful moves are a joy to watch. Unfortunately, Shanghai Noon has no amazing stunts, and although there are some fight sequences, they are more edited and less performed than I’ve come to expect from Chan. The movie isn’t completely unlikeable, but it’s not for Chan connoisseurs.

Ancient Chinese Plot Device

Wilson & Chan's Camaraderie

The movie opens in China on one of the oldest and most-used plot devices in the world: the Princess has been kidnapped. Naturally, Jackie Chan (playing Chon Wang) is sent to the Western U.S. territories to find her and bring her back.

The movie introduces us to Roy (Owen Wilson) and his band of comically inept outlaws. Roy and his gang are robbing the passengers of a train — the same train that Chon and the rest of the royal entourage is on. One of Roy’s men shoots one of the “Chinamen,” Chon’s uncle, which gives the movie an excuse for a fight scene.

The First Stunt

It had been about 15 minutes without any Jackie Chan stunts — not even any little easy ones. So when someone disconnected the last car on the train, with Jackie on one side and the bad guys on the other, I knew I was about to witness the first stunt. I was on the edge of my seat, ready to be amazed and thrilled. Jackie backed up into the car to get a running start, dashed toward the end of the car, and ...

And the editor cut to a blurry medium shot of a figure that might have been Chan, jumping between two train cars that might have been moving at different speeds. If Chan really did do the stunt, then the director and the editor are idiots for obscuring it. But I’m sure that’s not the case.

The Second Stunt

The fight continues up the train as Chon takes on Roy’s gang, one by one. Finally, Chon finds himself on a stack of timbers piled on a flatbed car. Gun in hand, Roy follows him onto the logs, and the two stare each other down. One of Roy’s henchmen appears, standing next to a release lever at the end of the car. He growls “I know how to get him offa there.”

Again I saw the stunt coming. I was on the edge of my seat, ready to be amazed and thrilled. Jackie stands on the logs with a look of shock on his face. The henchman pulls the lever to release the logs, and...

And the editor cuts to a helicopter shot of two figures that might have been real people (if they weren’t computer-generated), harmlessly flailing their limbs over a pile of rolling and tumbling logs.

Clang! Ooof!

Shanghai Noon’s fight scenes have the choreography and pace of Chan’s other movies. But still, I think they rely more heavily on editing and less on performance than in previous Chan movies. The most obvious example is when Chon makes a weapon from a rope and a horseshoe. It looks like the weapon was too hard to use because there’s never a clear shot of the thing working. But add a few sound effects and turn up the volume (Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh! Clang! Ooof!), and you can get away with visually sloppy fight scenes.

These guns are really weird.
— Owen Wilson as Roy

The movie does have some things going for it. Wilson is appealing as the bandit who can’t shoot straight and who doesn’t have the heart to be ruthless. Some of the movie’s funniest lines, ad-libbed by Wilson, come from the softspoken, yet sarcastic Roy.

Also, the camaraderie between Roy and Chon (after their first encounter, they forgive and forget) was funny and warm. It’s the same friendship that Chris Tucker and Chan showed in Rush Hour, which makes me think Chan is really as nice a guy as he seems.

Plus, it’s just hard not to like Jackie Chan, especially when he’s doing fight scenes that have been choreographed just for him. At one point he fends off two drunken cowboys wielding only moose antlers.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers underused Chan’s talents. His role could have been played by anyone. I didn’t go to see Shanghai Noon the comedy. I went to see Shanghai Noon the Jackie Chan movie, and I was disappointed