Tom Dey | 102 mins* | TV | 16:9** | USA & Hong Kong / English, Mandarin & Sioux | 12 / PG-13
Hong Kong martial arts legend Jackie Chan and Hollywood funnyman also-ran Owen Wilson team up for a film that I don’t think anyone involved could reasonably deny is just “Rush Hour in the Wild West”. Unfortunately, the result is surprisingly lacklustre.
There are two reasons we come to a film like this, exemplified by my summation of the two leads: action and comedy. Some of Chan’s contributions to the former are entertaining, but they’re by no means his best work. Sadly, the latter isn’t that great either. The film works better for both its leads when they’re apart, and that defeats the object. It’s not that Chan and Wilson don’t have chemistry, it’s just that the film gets bogged down in showing their relationship. It’s not funny enough to merit so much screen time.
Indeed, the film as a whole is far too long, meandering through subplots and sequences that need a good trim, if not dumping entirely. This is an action-comedy that runs close to 2 hours — it’s not as if it needs padding; cut it back to 90 minutes and it’d probably be fine. That said, the editing is kinda bizarre, with random jump cuts and comedic asides just plonked in. Fight scenes are occasionally over-cut too — considering Chan can do all these stunts and moves, and indeed is doing them, why has it been cut to look like it’s trying to hide a stuntman?!
Things that could have (should have) been fixed way back at the writing stage leer out at the viewer. The plot is treated almost perfunctorily, as if it’s not interesting enough to bother explaining or expounding upon. It’s hardly highly original or complex, but it feels as if important beats or character motivations have just been skipped over. For instance, the character/story impact of the final fight would be so easy to build up a bit, but they haven’t and so it falls a bit limp. Not to mention the bit when two characters who are essentially on the same side have a duel when they have more pressing things to worry about — save the Princess first, fight amongst yourselves later! Then there’s all the time given to Wilson’s rivalry with the local sheriff/martial/whatever, which we’re told exists, isn’t really built from anything, and suddenly is half the focus of the climax.
Also, it’s kinda racist and/or xenophobic, towards both the Chinese and Native Americans. Or maybe it’s just unthinkingly clichéd. Or old fashioned — it is 13 years old. On the other hand, that still puts it this side of the millennium. There’s a solid dose of sexism too. It’s established, almost in passing, that the Princess (Lucy Liu) knows her own mind, is clearly quite intelligent, and can fight a bit. Expect her to show that off in the climax? No. She eventually gets in about three kicks before someone twists her ankle. This is after she ran away, not by going out the front door, but by climbing some rickety scaffolding. How dumb is she?! Or, rather, how dumb is she suddenly when the plot wants a damsel in distress bit.
Shanghai Noon should be a lot of fun. It should be Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson engaging in a bit of comedy between skilfully choreographed, occasionally amusing, balletically staged fight sequences. But it isn’t. It’s laden with an underwritten plot, bulked up by clichés, stereotypes, overplayed character scenes, humour that doesn’t work, and a shortage of judicious editing. It is still kinda fun, but it could so easily have been more.
Tomorrow, Shanghai Knights.
This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2013. Read more here.
* On TV, where there were no studio logos and obviously foreshortened end credits, it ran 102 minutes 26 seconds. I cite this just in case anything was cut from the middle, because the full PAL running time is 3 minutes 29 seconds more. (I’m nothing if not thorough.) ^
** It’s painfully obvious that the TV version has been cropped from its original 2.35:1. And you thought pan & scan died with 4:3 TVs. ^