Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Dobkin

Cast: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Fann Wong, Aiden Gillen, Aaron Johnson, Donnie Yen, Tom Fisher

MPAA Rating:  (for action violence and sexual content)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 2/7/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Jackie Chan is, in my mind, the worldís greatest entertainer of our times. His movies are excuses for complicated fight and stunt sequences, and even when they are weak compared to what weíve come to expect from him, they still bring a smile to my face. Looking at his filmography, whatís interesting to note is that heís been involved in very few Hollywood ventures, and now, the majority of those are now part of two series. Both series are buddy flicks revolving around the fish-out-of-water gimmick; both give Chan a wisecracking sidekick to juxtapose Chanís incredible physical comedy abilities. The first movie in both of these series worked. The key difference is that one of the series has a potential future while the other is sure to have more but less-promising sequels. The reason: the divergence in quality of the first sequel of each respective series. Rush Hour 2 was an unfunny action comedy with good (but not great) stunt work from Chan. Shanghai Knights takes the same formula of Shanghai Noon and moves it from the Old West to Imperialist England. I could complain that itís more of the same, but if itís not broke, I donít expect them to fix it.

Chon Wang (Chan) is now sheriff of a Western town and partially famous because of a series of pulp novels about the exploits of his old partner Roy OíBannon (Owen Wilson). News reaches Chon from his sister Lin (Fann Wong) in the Forbidden City that his estranged father and keeper of the Imperial Seal has been murdered and the seal stolen. His sister has followed their fatherís murderer to London , and to do the same and seek vengeance for his fatherís death, Chon must obtain his half of the money from his past adventures with Roy, who has moved to New York to, Chon hopes, clean up his act. But things havenít changed for Roy, who agrees to go with Chon to England to uncover the thief and killer. To do so, Chon and Roy will have to expose a plot to assassinate the Royal Family by Rathbone (Aidan Gillen), an heir many, many steps down from the throne, who we can tell is evil because of his anachronistically stylishly disheveled hair.

The setting leads to a wealth of very clever jokes and gags, ranging from historically appropriate to anachronistic fabrication. Weaved throughout the central plot are minor allusions to the goings-on of the period. Jack the Ripper is stalking Whitechapel, Roy has invested loads of money into zeppelins, and small reminders of Britainís Imperialist domain are occasionally touched upon. Through a small amount of research, I learn that the end result of one characterís encounter with Saucy Jack is actually one of the many theories of the sudden cessation of his dirty work. A pair of new associates is introduced this time around. First is a young Cockney orphan and thief whose encounters with Chon, we learn later, will heavily influence his future career. The other is a Scotland Yard inspector named Artie whose real dream is to become a writer. Add to that the fact that heís a master of deductive reasoning, and you should be able to guess his future literary creation. Then there is the cultural teasing in which a lot of nice one-liners and situational gags poke good fun at our friends across the Atlantic. The jokes are pretty obvious (bad teeth, gloomy weather, and unique cuisine are perennial favorites), but they still manage to draw out a chuckle.

The situational comedy is nothing compared to the primary reason this sequel works so well. The combination of and interaction between Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson are worth another excursion. Wilsonís Roy is a walking, talking anachronism in himself. Just as before, heís an ahead-of-his-time, mellow, liberal, self-aware, self-proclaimed Renaissance man with the best intentions but the worst judgment, and Wilson is still hilarious in the role. Chan has the opportunity to really show off in his fight and stunt sequences. His precise, graceful movements and control and awareness of the environment around him are always incredible to watch. There are moments watching him in which we start to think of him in the way weíd think of someone like Gene Kelly. Just in time for the thought to pass through our heads, Chan pays homage to Kellyís performance of "Singiní in the Rain," complete with umbrella and soundtrack. Another fight scene is reminiscent of the Keystone Kops, in which Chan weaves in and out of a revolving battling to escape the police. Unlike some of his recent work, these sequences are more in tune with Chanís athletic abilities and his sharp sense of physical humor.

Thatís what keeps Shanghai Knights fresh compared to the slew of other sequels that invade the cinema. It stays true to the premise and expands on the elements that worked before. With that mindset, thereís legitimate potential for a continuing series with these characters. But letís be grateful for what we have with the first two films, because itís a rarity.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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