Thursday, May 15, 2014

Martial Arts and the Western

A Look at Shanghai Noon

My exchange son is a Japanese actor.  Shogen is in his first US production, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, which premiers May 23. This is an action/ adventure martial arts series that can be shown either by episode or as a whole movie (info below). So I got to thinking about Asian martial arts actors, and of course the first that came to mind was Bruce Lee. I was interested in martial arts movies with a western theme, though, bringing on memories of Kung Fu with David Carradine. But humor hooks me every time so Shanghai Noon with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson won out.

If your movies have to be “authentic,” then this film isn’t for you. If you want a gritty movie, don’t pick this one. However, if you’re an aficionado of irreverence (which I am), enjoy a good belly laugh along with some terrific fight scenes (which I do), then you can’t go wrong with Shanghai Noon. It has lovable protagonists, nasty villains, and strong women. Chon and Roy wouldn’t have lived through the first trip to town without Chon’s “wife,” Falling Leaf, and the bargirls saved Roy many a time. The princess was a wuss up to the very end, but even she redeemed herself.

This is one of the most unlikely buddy movies of all time. Chon Wang is intense, Chinese, and skilled at martial arts. Roy O’Bannon is laid-back, very Caucasian, and can’t fight his way out of a paper bag. Chon doesn’t waste words—you can’t shut Roy up. Chon is dedicated to loyalty and honor. Roy is dedicated to getting laid. As Roy says, “I am like a wild horse. You can’t tame me. You put the oats in the pen, though, and I’ll come in for a nibble every day. But the minute you shut that gate, I’ll jump the fence and you’ll never see me again.” But he says it in such a loving and sincere way.

Traditional Chinese warrior meets western new-age outlaw. Check out the trailer:

The main character is Chon Wang, played by Jackie Chan. (“Chon Wang? That’s a terrible name for a cowboy.”) He’s a member of the Chinese Imperial Guard and when the princess comes up missing, Chon feels responsible, so he sets out to rescue her from the kidnappers who had taken her to Carson City, Nevada. On the train, robbers kill his uncle and Chon ends up on his own in a strange land with a stranger partner—Roy O’Bannon, the leader of the outlaws that caused the ruckus on the train in the first place.

A fun part of the movie’s script is how they use anachronistic language.
Chon Wang: I got an idea: why don’t I pretend I’m sick, and then you can attack the guard when they come in?
Roy O’Bannon: Oh, you mean the sick prisoner routine? Does that still work in China? ’Cause here it’s sorta been done to death.

I love the bar fight—it’s clever, funny (the moose antlers are the perfect touch), and a thrill a second with ZZ Top playing in the the background.

And one of the most unique jail-escape scenes ever:

This movie is pure braincandy, and it did well enough that they made a sequel, Shanghai Knights, where Chon Wang and Roy O’Bannon head to London. Yes, I enjoyed that one, too.

There’s no comparison with my exchange son’s movie, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, other than asian actors and martial arts. This is a gritty action/adventure film (or series, depending on how they choose to show it), full of martial arts and angst—and it's Japanese, not Chinese. Shogen plays Young Gouken and he appears at about 58 seconds in:

Here’s a picture of Shogen:

Since I don’t know the whats and wherefores about indie films, I copied a quote about SF:AF’s release. will first release it as a 12-part web series at 11–12 minutes each. The 12 episodes will then be combined into 6 episodes at 21–22 minutes each for a TV mini-series on a currently undisclosed network. Afterwards, it will release as an edited 105-minute TV movie for syndicated television, and finally as the full 2+ hour uncut feature film as it was originally shot for release on DVD/Blu-ray. The series will first be released via on May 23, 2014, followed by the release in other formats at later dates.”

And there you have it—a plug from a proud momma.  Indulge me. And now I have to get the beer-butt chicken ready to grill because he said he might show up sometime around the premier.  Hope so!  


  1. Shanghai Noon is one of my guilty pleasures, but there will be no more Jackie Chan for us. He was quoted (in a Chinese newspaper, in Chinese) explaining that he despises the US and our way of life. So much for Jackie Chan as far as Len and I are concerned.

  2. I love a good irreverent Western movie! I just saw the preview for the upcoming "A Million Ways to Die in the West" and it looks hilarious.

    You have a talented exchange son!

  3. Jacquie, I loved Shanghai Noon! That was such a fun movie! Also want to say congratulations to your exchange son! Sounds like he is definitely on his way! Not an easy business to get into, for sure.

    1. Shogen is a hard worker and a fun person. We had the pleasure of teaching him American humor (poor guy) and how to ride a horse (which he did well in the remake of Seven Samurai). Of course, we had the beat the girls off with a stick the whole time. LOL.

  4. Frank, I didn't know that. It kind of puts a damper on things, doesn't it.

  5. Vonn, I want to see that movie, too! Looks like my cuppa. Here's the trailer:

  6. This movie is one of the funniest I have ever seen and I agree, not great for history, but fabulous for fun. Now I need to watch in again...

    Best to Shogen, I wish him well in his career. Will have to check that one out. Doris

    1. Thanks, Doris. I'm hoping this will be a good step for Shogen. He's in a tough business--but we writers know all about that.

  7. As you know, Jackie, karate or Kara Ti as it was called by the Ryukyu people who invented it, is part and parcel of The Snake Den and plays an important part in Diablo, which just came out from Black Horse Westerns. Ninja techniques appear in the short story KATAKI and in Night of the Assassins, Wolf Creek series. So Oriental fighting techniques, I think, have a place in Westerns, if you know whereof (which of??) you speak.

  8. I loved Shanghai Noon and its sequel, too. One of the things I liked most about it was that it was so self-aware. The dialogue bit you mentioned -- "Oh, you mean the sick prisoner routine? Does that still work in China? ’Cause here it’s sorta been done to death." -- is a great example. (The TV series Boston Legal was the same way. I loved that show, too.)

    Jacquie, we'll all hope to see more of Shogen. From what you've said about him in the past, he seems to be just the kind of humble celebrity the world could use more of. (Yes, there's a dangling preposition on that sentence. I don't care. :-D )

    Frank, I hadn't heard that about Jackie Chan, either. That's just...disappointing.

  9. Jacquie,

    Writing in support of you and your blog article. Sounds like you lead an interesting secret life!

    Yes, the movie was great fun.