Shanghai Knights (2003)

Rated PG-13 for action violence and sexual content.

Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen, Aaron Johnson, Aidan Gillen, Tom Fisher.
Directed by David Dobkin.
Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.
Produced by Jonathan Glickman, Gary Barber, and Roger Birnbaum.
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures.
107 minutes.

LVJeff's Rating: 7/10

Photo ©Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

London Shenanigans

Shanghai Knights has a throwaway plot. A lot of its jokes are corny. It contains numerous illogical moments. It's obsessed with loosely covering as much territory as possible about its subject, turn-of-the-century England, just for the sake of covering it. And I enjoyed the movie anyway.

Sometimes these things happen -- I have fun with a movie despite how hard it tries to show me how bad it can be. Something must be working, right? Right. Frankly, I dig the pairing of Jackie Chan with Owen Wilson. Chan's American movies seem to demand a buddy formula, where he is paired up with an American actor. I'm not sure why -- I guess it assures the local audiences that the movie won't feel too "foreign," even though Chan is quite popular and could easily hold an American movie on his own. But if he must be paired with someone, I'm glad he's been linked with Wilson. Wilson has as much capacity to be silly as Chan does, and his act of laid-back swaggering to hide his general insecurity complements Chan's determined-yet-guileless man-of-ability well.

I very much liked their first movie together, Shanghai Noon, and, since Shanghai Knights offers mostly more of the same, I expected to like the second movie as well. This time out, the film seems to try harder to ignore its plot than before. All that matters is Chan (playing Chon Wang) and Wilson (playing Roy O'Bannon) are in London, the two get to have comedic moments together with the help of an additional character played by Fann Wong (as Chon Wang's sister Chon Lin), and Wilson says and does goofy things whenever Chan is busy fighting. Every once in while, something reminds our heroes that they're here to find the killer of Chon's father. In the meantime, they've got time for pillow fights and conversations about Roy's chances at successfully wooing Chon Lin. That's the funny stuff anyway, you know.

Shanghai Knights does have one particular element working quite well for it. Of Chan's U.S. movies, it's come the closest so far to duplicating the frantically fun feel of an Asian Chan movie during the fight sequences. When they're done right, they feel like exciting, intricately choreographed dance routines. This movie offers more than a couple of those, the most memorable one being an ode to Singin' in the Rain, complete with Chan wielding an umbrella in the most creative of ways. Another favorite of mine was when Chan turned an old gag on its head -- the men he's fighting are the ones concerned with the safety of the many vases on display in a room, so Chan foils them by loading their arms with the vases while still ensuring they don't break.

The movie wants to make the most of its location and time period, so our heroes visit Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, and Big Ben. They meet a few famous and would-be famous people (and make room for the world's goofiest Jack the Ripper joke). At one point, Roy just flat-out tells Chon that, though they may not be accomplishing anything, he's really enjoying their current adventure. And that's pretty much the spirit of the movie. So never mind when two Chinese people use English when having a conversation alone, or when a spraying machine gun hits absolutely nobody in all the times it's fired, or when our heroes, who have become used to fighting off dozens of assailants at once, suddenly get captured when surrounded by a measly six people. If you don't worry about those kinds of things, Shanghai Knights is a kick.

©Jeffrey Chen, Feb. 7, 2003

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