Shanghai Knights - 2003
Directed by David Dobkin
Written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
Since we last left our heroes, Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) has become the sheriff of Carson City, Nevada while Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson) has moved on to New York and become the subject of several pulp novels describing his exploits with the “Shanghai Kid.” Chon receives a letter from his sister telling him that their father has been murdered, the Imperial seal has been stolen, and that she has followed the killers to London. Chon makes his way to New York in order to collect the gold that Roy has been holding for him since the last movie so he can afford the trip to London to avenge his father’s death. The duo goes off to London together. Wackiness ensues.
Goddamn this movie is fun.
Now I was a huge fan of Shanghai Noon, but I really think that this movie manages to surpass it in almost every way. It is big, loud, and totally goofy, with more fights, more Owen Wilson one-liners, and (of course) more hookers.
Jackie’s fights are much slower paced than usual and this is probably due to the fact that he’s not as young as he used to be. But what they lack in overall speed they make up for in grace and artistry. There is a lot less punching and kicking and more usage of objects. In one spectacular sequence Jackie fends off several guys using an umbrella while Singin' in the Rain plays in the background. The Chinese bad guy is played by martial arts superstar Donnie Yen and this film features his first fight with Jackie Chan, although it ends up being a bit anticlimactic and not very good. Who wants to watch Jackie fight one guy? In terms of overall quality of fights, I would place this film second to The Legend of Drunken Master among Jackie’s American-released films. The ladder fight in Jackie Chan’s First Strike still holding the title for best individual sequence, of course.
Owen Wilson plays the same character he always does, the clueless laid-back schemer who always has a plan. Not that this is bad thing, as he fills the movie with great lines ripping on royalty, street urchins, and pretty much England in general. I also enjoy his whole “falling in love” schtick that is used when he meets Chon Wang’s sister.
Speaking of the sister, Chon Lin is played by Singapore beauty queen Fann Wong and is absolutely gorgeous (and a damn fine kicker to boot).
What this film really does is harken back to the classic slapstick bits of yesteryear and brings them back for a modern audience. Everything is here: fireplaces that swivel around so characters can disappear, portraits with hollowed-out eyes used for peepholes, secret passages, even people freezing and pretending to be mannequins in the wax museum. Yes, it is a comedy/action movie sequel, quite possibly the most hollow kind of film, but everything is done with such a sense of enjoyment that you can’t help but play along. It is all crazy, giddy fun and it simply entertained the shit out of me. Oftentimes comedy can require a group setting, the jokes somehow feeling magnified when the whole audience laughs along. I saw this film in a completely empty theatre, just me and two friends, and we had a ball laughing and whooping at the screen.
My only problem was that it felt like the climax lasted far too long, especially since Owen was out of the picture and Jackie was engaged in a rather bland swordfight. Who wants to see Jackie Chan in a swordfight? This ended up sapping some of the great energy that had been building up for the past two hours. The final fight with Donnie Yen also contained a little bit of wirework that just felt totally out of place compared to the rest of the film. But other than that everything was sweet, sweet gravy.
One of the writers has recently commented that he wants to treat Chon and Roy like the Three Stooges. That is, make them completely independent from any specific time and place and just put them wherever (and whenever) he wants and let them go to work. This already seems like the style of comedy that that series is going in and I wholeheartedly agree with him. In fact, I almost wish we were still in the age of the short film so I could get a new Shanghai release every few months instead of every 2 or 3 years.