The Wild West meets the Far East when Chon Wang (John Wayne, get it?) heads to America in the 1880s to rescue Princess Pei Pei from a Chinese slave trader. He inadvertently hooks up with notorious outlaw Roy O’Bannon who shows him the ropes—literally, and earns his stripes as the Shanghai Kid (of course, he’s not even from Shanghai). A showdown in a church provides the climax as loyalties are tested, and courage becomes more than just a concept. Okay, maybe not courage exactly. It may just be stupidity, but that’s beside the point in Shanghai Noon.
Positive Elements: Wang risks life and limb in his determination to rescue the princess. The princess, meanwhile, shows her true nobility when she states that she is willing to remain a slave if it will help her people. In the end, Roy turns from his law-breaking ways and becomes a sheriff.
Spiritual Content: A mission church becomes the setting for the film’s final action scenes. When Roy emerges unscathed after enduring heavy gunfire, he looks upward and declares it a miracle.
Sexual Content: Roy fantasizes about a romp with three prostitutes. Later, he and Wang visit a Nevada whore house where it is implied that they indulge their baser needs (the girls parade in "classic" hooker attire). Wang wakes up one morning to find that he has not only slept with an Indian woman, but that he has unknowingly married her. A few sexual innuendoes include sly winks at homosexuality.
Violent Content: Jackie Chan has become synonymous with violence. Scene after bone-crunching scene floods Shanghai Noon with shoot-outs, fist-fights and every sort of hand-to-hand combat imaginable. Weapons include sticks, stones, a set of mounted antlers, liquor bottles, furniture, a giant bell, etc. The cameras zoom in on excruciating punches, kicks and choke-holds. Bullets fly. Bodies cartwheel, ricocheting off walls and slamming into the ground. Much of the action is glossy and acrobatic, but the intensity and frequency of it is enough to give theater-goers whiplash.
Crude or Profane Language: Half a dozen s-words mix with three or four times that number of other profanities. God’s name gets a rude workout in several scenes.
Drug and Alcohol Content: Men drink heavily in Old West bars. Roy and Wang play a Chinese drinking game which results in the two getting thoroughly plastered. Even Wang’s horse gets drunk when it guzzles a bottle of whiskey. Wang’s new Indian family passes the peace pipe, which seems to contain a hallucinogenic drug.
Other Negative Elements: To break out of jail, Wang takes off his shirt, urinates on it, then uses it to bend the bars of his cell. (Don’t ask!)
Summary: Evidently the rating board for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) thinks that extreme violence doesn’t warrant an R-rating if it’s mixed with humor. That’s how Jackie Chan has managed a PG-13 rating for his latest pummel-fests. But as our culture continues to become more and more desensitized to brutality, humor only complicates things. Chan doesn’t bother to show viewers the any repercussions of their actions, he just laughs everything off as part of the fun. As for those dead bodies left in his wake, well, they’re the bad guys, so what’s the harm? After taking numerous blows to the head, Roy jokes to his captors that he’s a human, not a piñata—right before he and Wang slug their way out the front door. It’s a dangerous game Hollywood is playing with America. And Shanghai Noon is just one more piece of confetti in the wind.