*** (out of 5)
February 7, 2003
Jackie Chan as CHON WANG
Owen Wilson as ROY O’BANNON
Fann Wong as CHON LIN
Donnie Yen as WU YIP
Aidan Gillen as RATHBONE
Tom Fisher as ARTIE DOYLE
Directed by: David Dobkin
BY KEVIN CARR
“Shanghai Knights” is ultimately not a hard movie to guess whether you will like it. If you like Jackie Chan films, you’ll love it. If you enjoy light-hearted comedies, this is your bag. If you think Owen Wilson is a hoot, check it out. However, if you find martial arts annoying, Jackie Chan overused and Owen Wilson irritating, stay home. There are no surprises here.
Chinese Imperial guard-turned-Old West Sheriff Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) has just learned that his father was murdered in the Forbidden City. His sister Lin (Fann Wong) has followed the murderer to England in order to seek revenge. Chon looks up his old friend Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson) to collect his half of the gold they stole in the last film, “Shanghai Noon.” Unfortunately for Chon, Roy has squandered all of the gold away and is left waiting tables in a Manhattan restaurant.
Even though Roy has left Chon in the poor house, the two join together and travel to England to find Lin as well as their father’s murderer. While there, they encounter famous historical figures “Forrest Gump” style, including the boy tramp Charlie Chaplin and the overly earnest Scotland Yard detective Arthur Conan Doyle. Of course, there are basic stand-bys you might come to expect from this series, including a house of ill repute where Roy and Chon relax one night.
Additional in jokes from the first film pop up throughout, such as Chon’s horse that sits like a dog and Roy’s ability to think up great character names and abandon them. (In “Shanghai Noon,” Roy teases Chon for having a name that sounds like “John Wayne” as well as admits to having changed his real name from Wyatt Earp. Both names, he insisted were terrible cowboy names.) Overall, the structure of “Shanghai Knights” is very similar to that of its predecessor.
It is for these reasons that fans of “Shanghai Noon” will undoubtedly like “Shanghai Knights.” Where the first film relied on Chon for the fish-out-of-water gags, both Chon and Roy need to deal with it this time. Of course, there is plenty of Hong Kong fighting action that Jackie Chan is famous for, and in this sequel, the fight choreography and pacing seemed to work much better than in the original.
Showtime’s “Queer as Folk” star Aiden Gillen does a commendable job as the villain Rathbone, who is in cahoots with disgraced Imperial guard Wu Yip (Donnie Yen). While he is no Xander Berkeley (the evil Marshall from the first film), he exudes a strong creepiness and easily outshines Yen.
One thing that “Shanghai Knights” suffers from is a need to bring the characters back to their lowest form in the beginning. Like many films today, “Shanghai Noon” was made without thought of a sequel. However, once it became a surprise hit, a franchise was born. “Shanghai Noon” had wrapped up very neatly in the end, making both Chon and Roy rich with beautiful women at their sides. (It is interesting to note that Lucy Liu, Chon’s main squeeze in the previous film, is noticeably missing.) All of this has to be thrown away to put them back in dire straits for this film.
Still, don’t expect a terribly strong plot – especially when Chon and Roy get to England. The film is held together by the flimsiest plot points that serve as the glue for the next fight sequence or a build-up for a ridiculous line from Wilson. The worst part of the film is the thoroughly maddening character of Charlie Chaplin, whom Chon and Roy meet when he was just a young tramp on the street.
In general, the addition of a child into a film (especially one that isn’t critical to the plot and in his awkward pre-teens) is a bad idea. Sometimes kids can be an effective plot tool, such as Haley Joel Osmet in “The Sixth Sense.” However, this rag-tag Charlie Chaplin is nothing short of terrible. It is one of the worst character choices since Short Round joined up with Indiana Jones in “The Temple of Doom.”
Part of the soft spot I have for this film is that I am a huge Owen Wilson fan. He’s a brilliant writer (known for being a co-author of Wes Anderson’s critically-acclaimed films including “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tennenbaums), though he’s never acted a day in his life (with possibly the exception of his role in “The Minus Man”). But that’s okay by me. I just think the guy is funny – whether he’s playing a roughneck astronaut in “Armageddon,” a buffoon named Dignan in “Bottle Rocket” or a swindling cowboy in this film.
Wilson delivers all of his lines with his signature Texas drawl that are just funny to listen to, regardless of what he says. Jackie Chan sometimes over plays the serious, neurotic Chon, but in which Jackie Chan film does this not happen? And, Chon is deservingly brooding in “Shanghai Knights” following the death of his father. Of course, since his uncle was murdered in “Shanghai Noon,” it leaves me wondering which relative of his is going to die in the third installment of this series, which can then be appropriately called “Shanghai Mourning.”