In this installment of Groovers & Mobsters, we’re going to look at the “Buddy” element in modern films. It’s taken many forms over the years and come in a variety of iterations but today we’ll evaluate this absolute classic cinematic formula. It’s proven time and again to be a winner and, most of the time, makes for one very funny outing…especially if the characters aren’t having a good time.
Traditionally a “buddy flick” (or even a “road trip movie“) focuses on a two-man team who has either been willingly or unwillingly paired together because of some mutual plot device. What follows is a series of misadventures befalling the leads as they continually bump heads (either their own, or someone else’s) much to the enjoyment of the viewer. That said, I and the other bloggers in this series appreciate the subtle and not so subtle “back and forth” that the characters in these films dish out/endure and will shine some light on one of my all time favorite “Buddy flicks”. Enjoy!!
“That’s what I said“…”No. You said wet shirt won’t break, not piss shirt bend bars“
When Princess Pei Pei is kidnapped from the Forbidden City, Chon Wang is sent to America to negotiate her ransom. When his uncle is killed in a train robbery gone wrong Chon finds an enemy but later an unlikely friend in outlaw Roy O’Bannon. The two continue Chon’s quest to rescue to princess all the while bumping heads with the locals, a corrupt Marshall and each other every step of the way. In the vein of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid this modern and comical take on a period Western proves to be a winning formula spearheaded by natural and charismatic funny men.
Like any buddy flick, Shanghai Noon shows how the worst in one lead character can be turned to bring out the best in the other. Now, this isn’t a film with a fulfilling character arc that leaving you with a lasting impression. No, this is a straight-up comedy with lots of heart and a story that caters to the lead actors’ styles and sensibilities. In roles they seem almost born to play, or rather how they might act normally, Jackie Chan does his improv kung-fu and pantomime while Owen Wilson does some of his best zany reactions, this time wearing a dashing cowboy hat.
Jackie has shared the screen with total opposites before (Chris Tucker being the most recognizable) but here his chemistry with Owen comes off as more genuine, even if the plot and the likelihood of them actually working together is highly implausible. Particularly, in the jail scene, Roy tells Chon he actually did dig himself out using chopsticks (a test Chon was sure Roy would fail). We then see an easiness starts to wash over the stone-faced Chon and easy as that the friendship is sparked. After that it’s all hijinx and hilarity as the two then proceed to get help from pretty much everyone except each other. They become fast friends and start to find their groove even if it’s still just the blind leading the blind.
Shanghai Noon is a fish out of water story and a great iteration of the total opposite/odd couple formula. Further, it’s made that much more enjoyable because of the lead roles. Chon was a terrible Imperial Guard but in the West he has no equal. And Roy who after a lifetime of looking out for himself is learning the value of looking out for someone else which in the end yields a pretty endearing friendship. From cultural differences, to tongue in cheek mistranslations, to the each character’s odd yet compatible nature this unsung buddy flick has style and heart in spades. But while most films are content with the idea that the story is a “journey, not a destination“. Shanghai Noon goes one step further. In the end it, does what these types of films do best; leave it wide open to explore the further adventure of these newly minted “buddies”.
To see the rest of the films selected and their excellent write-ups, check them out over at Movie Mobsters!