One of this summer's predicted box office hits, "Shanghai Noon," is delighting local audiences with an unexpected connection to Nevada: The bulk of the story takes place in 1800s Carson City.
A comedy-western-eastern starring the charming kung fu hero and humorist Jackie Chan, the story unfolds in China's imperial Forbidden City. But the action quickly moves to Nevada, where most of the fast-paced western adventure takes place, including a wild train robbery, martial arts sequences and a hilarious buddy story.
Based on a story by Chan, "Shanghai Noon" opened Friday at theaters for the summer blockbuster Memorial Day weekend.
While the movie's opening eastern scenes were actually shot in the Forbidden City, the western setting was not filmed on location in Nevada but near Calgary, Canada, said Robin Holabird, deputy director for the Nevada Film Office in Carson City.
Northern Nevada audiences got an advance look at the Carson City storyline, with a press preview and also a sneak preview at Century Theatres, a week prior to the national debut.
"There was a lot of laughter when the audience heard 'Carson City,' because we all knew it didn't look like Carson City or Nevada," said Holabird. "The audience really did get a kick out of seeing that, and the movie seemed to go over very well."
In the business of cinema, the choice of Canada for filming of "Shanghai Noon" is a typical example of major competition for not just Nevada but all of the U.S., Holabird said.
To help counteract the continuing problem, the film office is currently working with Nevada Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt's office to research some ideas for the upcoming Nevada legislative session for increased filming incentives, such as tax rebates and investment programs. The film office is a division of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development.
Canada offers a package of incentives for production companies, Holabird said, in addition to its spectacular, undeveloped locations and the Canadian Rockies scenery.
"Canada has an impressive labor pool and a specific government program to enhance investment money if you hire Canadians," she said.
National and province tax breaks that can go up to 28 percent, no censorship ties for any project, a dollar exchange rate which can take off a third of the budget, and lower base production crew rates are major business attractions there.
To compete, the Nevada Film Office relies on strong presentations to Hollywood producers.
"I ask them to seriously look at what goes on in Canada," Holabird said. "Sometimes the savings aren't as great as they first appear. I point out some of the rates we have available, and our unions have a good track record."
In the case of "Shanghai Noon," the Nevada Film Office wasn't contacted, but Holabird's office got in touch anyway just to let them know what's available in the state.
"The visual style of the movie would have been a little difficult to shoot here," she said. "We have no standing Western set of that scale here in Northern Nevada. Virginia City has too much development and tourism, although some projects have managed to film there in shoulder seasons, like October."
The Asamera Ranch in Storey County, a 3,000-acre parcel of undeveloped land, could have worked well, she said. "Our state has a special kind of beauty, but our undeveloped areas have difficult access," she said.
The tables were turned recently on Canada when the movie "Diamonds," starring Kirk Douglas and Dan Aykroyd, was set in British Columbia but filmed mostly in the Reno-Lake Tahoe area.
"Our unions were offering comparable deals, our room rates were better, we had a milder, drier climate, and our proximity to Los Angeles also was appealing," Holabird said.
It's common knowledge that movies often are not filmed in the location of the story setting for a variety of reasons.
Holabird recently met with Sean Penn, who is directing the new movie "The Pledge," starring Jack Nicholson. The story is set in both Reno and a nearby mountain fishing town. Doing research in Reno, Penn wanted the filming to be done here, but the film's production company, Franchise Pictures, packages its projects in Canada, she said.
Another current project, "Deep End," from the independent i5 Films, is being filmed at Lake Tahoe after considering filming in Canada. "They couldn't get the look of Tahoe in Canada," Holabird said.
The Nevada Film Office has been dealing with the Canadian competition for several years. Holabird recalls when she joined the office back in 1986. The NBC television production of "Bonanza: The Next Generation" was looking seriously at Canada rather than Lake Tahoe. The film office, the Incline Village community and the Ponderosa Ranch worked hard to get the production.
"It takes many people putting several pieces together to make it work," Holabird said. "It doesn't just fall in our laps."
Some recent movies being shot in northern Nevada are "Waking Up in Reno," starring Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Swayze and Charlize Theron, distributed by Miramax for release in 2001, and "Squelch," a New Regency Pictures production shot in October using northern Nevada highways and set for release this summer.
As for "Shanghai Noon," a Touchstone Pictures release, reviewers are predicting a major box office success. Roger Ebert gives it a hearty thumbs up, and Premiere magazine says it will be a top summer movie, predicting a $95 million take. (For a review of "Shanghai Noon" see this week's Diversions publication.)
In it, Chan portrays an imperial guard with his trademark inventive martial arts skills and comedy, who comes to Nevada to help rescue a kidnapped princess, played by Lucy Liu. When he reluctantly teams up with a train robber, played by Owen Wilson, the buddy theme comes to life, just as in Chan's smash hit of last year, "Rush Hour."
Chan revealed on a recent talk show the "Shanghai" sequel is already in the works, to start shooting in April.
If the production needs a different kind of Western look, Holabird said, northern Nevada and Lake Tahoe would be a very good choice.
"Shanghai Noon" appears at the New Northgate Movies 10 and at the New Meadowdale Theaters in Gardnerville
For showtimes, call 887-1990, Ext. 3500.