Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Shanghai Noon”

August 7 is the 29th anniversary of Clint Eastwood’s epic western Unforgiven. In celebration of that monumental film, we look back at Touchstone Pictures 2000 buddy comedy western Shanghai Noon.

The Plot

Chon Wang is a guard in the Forbidden City in China. After Princess Pei Pei is kidnapped and ransomed by the nefarious Lo Fong, a party of elite guards is sent to America. Chon joins the group and soon they are off to Carson City, Nevada. The mission is to pay the ransom and bring the princess home.

In Nevada, Roy O’Bannon leads his gang in a train robbery that ends in disaster. On this train O’Bannon meets Chon whose uncle is killed by a member of the gang named Wallace. Thrown out of the gang by Wallace, O’Bannon and Chon join forces.

The Nevada that Chon and O’Bannon must navigate is filled with corrupt law enforcement, slave labor, and multiple first nation’s groups. Only together will the two unlikely allies succeed. Using good old fashion American firepower and eastern martial arts, Chon and O’Bannon head into the ransom drop uncertain how they will make it out alive.

Cinematic Compliments

Jackie Chan’s martial arts is a joy to watch on the big screen. The fluidity of his movements and his skill is undeniable. Placing him in a western with the name Chon Wang is a perfect way to blend cinema history with martial arts. It seems natural to see Chan beating up a variety of cowboys while partnering with Wilson. While stereotypes can be found in many avenues of the film, Jackie Chan plays a noteworthy character that is lead in the story instead of the sidekick.

Owen Wilson is funny. No matter the role he plays he always brings a light-hearted sense of joy to the screen. His Roy O’Bannon isn’t your typical cowboy. He is reflective on how people perceive him. You will never hear a cowboy quite like the way Owen Wilson plays one.

The movie is a homage to the western genre, and the audience will count multiple ways the movie pays tribute to this genre. At the same point, the film takes the well-known tropes and story arcs of westerns and injects some new momentum with Chan and Wilson as the leads.

Cinematic Complaints

It’s odd to see Lucy Liu play the damsel in distress. For most of the film she is forced to play the standard role of the woman who is duped by an advisor and then waits to be rescued. We see some action near the end when she joins in the fight against Lo Fong, but Lucy Liu could have used a better arc in the film.

Fun Film Facts

  • The three main actors were nominated for a Blockbuster Entertainment Award with only Lucy Liu getting a win.
  • The film was also nominated in multiple categories at the World Stunt Awards.
  • The movie was shot on location in Alberta, Canada.
  • Brandon Merrill plays Jackie Chan’s Native American wife. She is an international rodeo champion and Shanghai Noon is her only major role.
  • Jackie Chan’s character’s name Chon Wang is the Chinese translation of John Wayne.
  • The film is a homage to many legendary westerns. The title is reminiscent of High Noon, the main characters name is connected to an iconic western star, Marshal Van Cleef is an homage to Lee Van Cleef who starred in multiple spaghetti westerns, Owen Wilson’s character is connected to another legendary western star Roy Rogers, and the end scene where they are surrounded is an homage to final scene of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.
  • According to an EW interview at the time, Wilson did a lot of uncredited work to punch up the humor for his character and the script.
  • The film was followed by a sequel, Shanghai Knights, which was less successful than the original.
  • A planned second sequel Shanghai Dawn has been shelved for the time being.
  • According to Wilson, his role in Shanghai Noon was a hit with director John Lasseter and led to getting the role of Lightning McQueen in Cars.

The Golden Popcorn Bucket Award

Shanghai Noon gets 2 Golden Popcorn Buckets. It’s a fun adventure with some talented lead actors that look like they are having fun on screen. Jackie Chan brings the action and martial arts to the old west, and Owen Wilson brings the humor to a lawless and harsh time. They make a great team, and the film is enjoyable but it’s not a must see.

Coming Attractions

Next week, let’s take a trip to the beach with the Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey drama Beaches.

Production Credits

Directed by Tom dey

Produced by Touchstone Pictures / Spyglass Entertainment

Starring:

  • Jackie Chan as Chon Wang
  • Owen Wilson as Roy O’Bannon
  • Lucy Liu as Princess Pei Pei
  • Walton Goggins as Wallace
  • Roger Yuan as Lo Fong

Release Date: May 28, 2000

Budget: $55 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $56,937,502

Worldwide Total: $99,274,467

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Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Shanghai Noon”