Liu plays ‘Princess ‘Pei-Pei’, who flees old-timey China to avoid an arranged marriage to a frog-faced fella… only to wind up being held hostage by a former member of her own Imperial Guard, who’s now set himself up as a slaver in America. Eep! She gets a few good kicks in here and there, but she spends most of her time playing the damsel-in-distress, humbled by her cruel captor and waiting to be rescued by the movie’s mismatched male heroes (Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson). On the plus side, she does look super-pretty here, and she gets to share a few fun scenes with the legendary Chan (playing a devoted but slightly dim Guard, who follows her to the West), so it could’ve been a lot worse.
Her helplessness is also counter-balanced by the character of ‘Falling Leaves’, a sharp-shootin’ Sioux maiden, who is married to Chan by her tribal chief father. She follows the heroes like a tongue-less guardian angel, saving them from certain death several times throughout the movie… and even gets a joke in at the end, bless her. The role was played by Brandon Merrill, who started out as a rodeo champion, before she was “spotted” in a magazine feature, and signed up by a modelling agency… though this movie remains the only credit on her acting resume, according to IMDb. The only other female character of any note was ‘Fifi’, a slightly racist prostitute played by Kate Luyben, who inadvertently instigates a minor conflict between the “Chinaman” and his blonde cowboy buddy.
Speaking of whom, I’d forgotten how funny and charming Owen Wilson could be back in the day, with his off-kilter delivery, and shaggy-dog appearance. I’m one of the few people in the universe who enjoyed Chris Tucker’s contributions to The Fifth Element, but given a choice I’d rather watch Wilson team up with Chan than sit through another Rush Hour sequel… though obviously, in a perfect world, I’d prefer to see Liu, Luyben and Merrill teaming up together, as a steampunk variation of Charlie’s Angels!