Long before Jackie Chan teamed with Owen Wilson to bring the Far East to the Old West in Shanghai Noon, and even before Jet Li brought the East to the West in Once Upon a Time in China and America, actor/director Sammo Hung brought the two together within the Chinese confines with Shanghai Express, originally known as Millionaire's Express. This film combines screwball comedy with martial arts action with a bit of a Western bent. It is partially successful in creating an entertaining film, but I have to admit to being a bit underwhelmed by the endeavor.
The main story follows Cheng (Sammo Hung) as he returns home, a wanted man, proceeds to buy up all the businesses he can with plans to blow up the nearby railroad tracks in order to divert the wealthy passengers to the town so they will spend their money there. Meanwhile, there is the lawman who is pursuing Cheng with the intent to collect the reward money. Then there are the bored police of the town who decide to set a fire so they can rob the bank. Finally we have the firemen, led by Yuen Biao, who, as the most virtuous of the lot, take over as the police and set out to clean up the town. And this is before we even get to the train.
Now, the train brings with it a whole new set of issues. There are the wealthy people on board that Cheng wishes to divert to town, plus a group of not so nice fellows who are after an ancient artifact being transported by a couple of government officials. There are also a group of Japanese samurai with their own motives for traveling aboard this particular train. If that isn't complicated enough, there is a group of bandits, featuring a couple of foreigners, Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton (as Confederate soldiers), with plans of making a run at the town.
Each of these stories is brought together in broad comic effect, which I did not really find all that funny. This movie is a good case where the parts are greater than the whole. The movie, on the whole, is something of a letdown, the stories never really converge all that well, and the way they are told seems rather sloppy. Still, there is no denying the charms of the parts.