It's an Eastern but a Western
To put it simply it is Jackie Chan who makes "Shanghai Noon" the fun and memorable movie it is, without his talent not only for martial arts but also comedy it would have been boring. You see whilst it features Owen Wilson as one of the most laid back cowboys you will have ever seen the actual storyline isn't really that new. A Kidnapped Eastern Princess taken to America, a man trying to rescue her and various comedy inspired action scenes is all too familiar and reminds me in some ways of "The Golden Child". But because the brilliance of Jackie Chan combining smooth martial arts with an abundance of comedy "Shanghai Noon" becomes both entertaining and memorable.
In 19th century China, Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu - Kill Bill: Vol. 1) is kidnapped and taken to America where she is held to ransom and along with an elite group of Imperial Guard, the less than elite Chon Wang (Jackie Chan - The Cannonball Run) heads to America to retrieve her. But Whilst travelling by train Chon ends up getting separated from the other guards and after a brief stay with some Native Indians finds himself buddying up with nice guy outlaw Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson - Armageddon) who promises to helm find his Pei Pei when he learns that there is a chest of gold pieces on its way to pay for her ransom.
So as already mentioned "Shanghai Noon" is not a new movie, it may have a different names and places but the kidnapped person and the man trying to rescue them has been done before. In fact look at Jackie Chan's "Rush Hour" and there is a lot of similarities and if it doesn't remind you of that it probably will remind you of "The Golden Child". So whilst we have this storyline set in the Wild West and the amusingly named Chon Wang heading to America in search of Princess Pei Pei you pretty much know what to expect.
And director Tom Dey serves up pretty much everything you expect when it comes to the fish out of water aspect as we watch Chon struggle with the American way and finding himself befriended by Native American's when he rescues one of their tribe. It is all amusing from that friendship which forms with the Indian's to him dealing with riding a horse and saloon brawls. But it is also the genre humour which works and as already mentioned have Chan's character being called Chon Wang is simply brilliant especially when Roy thinks it's a stupid cowboy name. Talking of Roy well it is also another funny character and one of the most laid back cowboys you will ever meet. To put it simply "Shanghai Noon" is filled with a lot of expected humour and some fresh humour and whilst it means it is at times very obvious it is also enjoyable.
But the reason why all of this works is not the casting of Owen Wilson who works well as an equal to Jackie Chan or the delightful Lucy Liu as the Princess but because Jackie Chan is the star of the movie. Pretty much every joke revolves around him, be it a bit of martial arts tom foolery or a western gag but Chan doesn't hog the limelight, he shares it with Owen Wilson making it a brilliant comedy pairing rather a comedian and his patsy. Yet it is because Chan has such a natural talent for comedy that there are so many fun scenes be it his struggle with the western ways or a funny moment during a fight. Whilst I am sure there are other martial artists who could have played Chan's role none of them could have does it with such comedic flare making us laugh but also get excited when he slides out of a window or dodges spears being thrust at him.
What this all boils down to is that "Shanghai Noon" is a fun and memorable movie but at its heart it is nothing which hasn't been done before. But because Jackie Chan is so brilliant through out be it delivering the humour or the action it lifts it from being just another fish out of water action movie to something worth a watch.