Shanghai Knights (2003) / Action-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and mild sexual content
Running time: 114 min.
Cast: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Fann Wong, Aidan Gillen, Donnie Yen, Aaron Johnson
Director: David Dobkin
Screenplay: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Review published February 5, 2003
Shanghai Knights is both better and worse in many ways than the first film, Shanghai Noon, so I feel that the reaction as to which you feel is the better of the two will greatly depend on what it is you look for in both films. My personal pick is for this one, but I'm a tad biased towards Jackie Chan's (The Tuxedo, Rush Hour 2) inspired action much more than Owen Wilson's occasionally funny ad-libs, and Knights definitely cranks out the action to the max. However, those who prefer Wilson's (I Spy, Behind Enemy Lines) antics may not be as amused this time around, as his comic quips are now expected to be in every scene, creating many situations with forced comedy that isn't exactly off-the-cuff fresh.
And just like every other buddy movie out there, the plot is a stinker. Chon Wang's father has been killed by a British royal named Rathbone (Gillen, The Final Curtain) for a jewel-encrusted Imperial Seal. Rathbone is 10th in line to Britain's throne, and along with some cohorts from China, devises a plan to off the other nine, and claim the throne for himself. Chon's sister, Lin (Wong, The Truth About Jane and Sam), has already traveled to London in search of the Seal and revenge for her father, and soon Chon is on his way as well, with faithful friend Roy O'Bannon on his side. Together, the three must do what they can to see Rathbone's evil plans thwarted at any cost.
The joy of watching almost any Jackie Chan film comes from the ingenious way he uses props and comedy in his action scenes to wonderful effect. Of Jackie's more recent efforts, his action scenes in Shanghai Knights rank among his most entertaining, and even if he's done much that is similar in previous films, how can one ever tire of seeing such athletic feats performed with such tongue-in-cheek zest?
The film intentionally has an old-fashioned sense of humor, much like the slapstick comedies of the 20s and 30s, with bumbling cops, eyes behind the painting, and hidden rooms behind revolving fireplaces. It's a film of filled to the brim with homages, some to the times it is in, such as Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes. Some of the homages are to the old classics from which it draws inspiration, namely Singin' in the Rain, Buster Keaton, Indiana Jones flicks, and James Bond. Almost every set piece feels lifted from a movie you've seen before, but considering that this series is built around plugging two very anachronistic characters into olden-day settings, we somehow give them the benefit of the doubt for knowing plagiarisms. Besides, the many allusions to the old Hollywood days should definitely keep the older members of the audience entertained in between the goofy romance and action that appeals to the younger set.
Shanghai Knights is not really a great movie, but it is a great sequel. What I mean to say is, it manages to deliver all of the things we enjoyed from the first film, while keeping things from getting stale by introducing entirely new elements into the mix. Like many comedic team-up flicks, the only lulls occur when returning to the main storyline and away from the goofy, but highly enjoyable, comedy. Even with the occasional lag, there's definitely enough action and comedy to justify the ticket price, and even make us hope that we'll get to see Wilson and Chan together for one more go around of fun.
©2003 Vince Leo