Shanghai Noon (2000)

Shanghai Noon (2000)
AKA Shanghai Kid, Shaolin Cowboy

Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Lucy Liu, Brandon Merrill, Roger Yuan, Xander Berkeley, Yu Rong-Guang, Jason Connery, Walton Goggins, Adrien Dorval, Rafael Báez, Stacy Grant, Kate Luyben

Directed by Tom Dey

Expectations: Moderate.


From where I’m sitting, the years have not been kind to Shanghai Noon. I initially saw it upon its original home video release, and I remember liking well enough to carry a positive memory around with me in the intervening years. Seeing it in relative close proximity to some truly great Jackie films, though, Shanghai Noon feels neutered and missing so much of the “it factor” that makes Jackie unique. The action is minimal and not satisfying at all, though to be fair Shanghai Noon is trying its best to be a comedy more than anything else. This becomes a problem when you’re not laughing along with the movie, because there’s literally nothing else to carry the film (other than every western genre cliche you can imagine).

Jackie plays Chon Wang, an Imperial Guard who is friendly with Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) and feels responsible when she is kidnapped and taken to America. So along with a trio of uptight guards, Jackie makes his way to the land of cowboys and golden dreams to begin his search. Initially he finds it a bit hard, running into a bumbling gang of train thieves led by Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson). But to be honest, the plot of Shanghai Noon isn’t of much concern; it’s more about the comedy of the two lead characters coming together and dealing with situation after situation of bad luck.

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The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

the_man_with_the_iron_fists_2012Starring RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Byron Mann, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Daniel Wu, Zhu Zhu, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Andrew Ng, Grace Huang, Andrew Lin, Chen Kuan-Tai, Leung Kar-Yan, MC Jin, Pam Grier, Jon T. Benn

Directed by RZA

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

twohalfstar


The Man with the Iron Fists is a strange movie, without a doubt. But I don’t think it’s bad; it’s more oddly misguided than anything else. What’s weird is that it feels this way based almost completely on how much RZA gets right in his homage to the classic kung fu films of the Shaw Brothers. Yes, “right.” The sets are magnificent and recapture the opulence of Shaw sets beautifully, the wirework is delivered with top-notch Hong Kong skill, and the story is filled with the wide range of colorful characters that any good wuxia demands. The weapons are suitably eccentric, and the battles are all well choreographed (by Corey Yuen), too. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that The Man with the Iron Fists was actually a Chinese production. RZA actually managed to resurrect the spirit of classic kung fu films, but — and this is where the “strange” comes in — the lens we experience all this classic kung fu goodness through is that of modern American filmmaking.

So because the film has so much good working for it, the bad sticks out and demands to be reckoned with in more apparent and frustrating ways than would otherwise be noticeable. The choice to film primarily in English is an expected one, but, at least for me, many of the actors sounded more like ’70s kung fu dubbing than actual actors in a scene. This could be bad acting, poor direction, or it could be by design. If it is intentional, that’s one hell of a bold choice for an unproven, first-time director making what is essentially a large-scale vanity project, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true. I’m sure RZA grew up watching the dubs that made their way to the States in the ’70s, and as a result has a nostalgic fondness for them. No matter what the reason, though, it’s off-putting, especially to someone like me that has never really grown fond of those iconic dub jobs.

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