An imperial palace guard is sent to America to rescue a kidnapped princess and teams up with an outlaw along the way.
A no-frills, unpretentious mixture of cowboy clichés, martial arts licks, buddy-buddy movies and low comedy, Shanghai Noon is the kind of fun flick that will never generate tons of hype or expectation, but is all the more refreshing for it.
A showcase for Chan's martial arts dexterity and little-guy-against-the-world persona, this also benefits from a broad canvas, a gossamer touch from director Dey, oodles of filmic in-jokery (say Chan's character name Chon Wang very quickly) and a performance from Wilson that erases all memory of The Haunting and may catapult him to stardom.
While it appears on the surface to be a by-the-numbers romp through overused Western standards - there are neatly staged hold-ups, bar room brawls and hair's-breadth escapes from hanging - Shanghai Noon does possess enough quirks to lift it way beyond the average. Chiefly this lies in the relationship between Chan and Wilson which, if it follows all the rules of buddydom (mutual antagonism flourishing into respect), is decidedly more offbeam than, say, Rush Hour (1998) .
Even if his stunt shenanigans are not as inspired as his best work, Chan turns in a performance of likeability, vulnerability and self-parody. Yet this is far and away Wilson's movie: with Chan clever and generous enough to allow his co-star time in the sun, Wilson's verbose, slightly anxious, introverted outlaw delivers a goofy winning turn through sheer off-kilter charm rather than anything inherent in the script. The chemistry between the two is a delight - a moment where they play a bizarro drinking game while sharing adjacent bathtubs holed up in a bordello is infectious - and gives Shanghai Noon a strangely moving centre in which to anchor its funny, exciting edges.
A mis-matched buddy movie that really works.