Shanghai Knights (2003) Buena Vista
1 hr. 46 mins.
Starring: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen, Aaron Johnson, Aiden Gillen, Thomas Fisher
Directed by: David Dobkin

Shanghai Knights



Photo: Buena Vista

Shanghai Knights is the exuberant follow-up to the highly successful original Shanghai Noon. The butt-kicking tandem of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson are back causing their usual martial arts mayhem. The familiar physicality of Chan’s karate-kicking calisthenics still remains the resilient signature trademark and practically acts as its own three-dimensional supporting character. Granted the stunts aren’t as eye-popping as opposed to the heyday of the younger Chan’s more flamboyant flicks when the diminutive dynamo was in his pouncing prime. The hilarious high jinks and energizing tempo of Shanghai Knights should downplay the forgettable and agonizing duds of Chan’s The Tuxedo and Wilson’s I Spy as a mere afterthought on their comedic action film portfolios.

Carousing cohorts Chon “John Wayne” Wang (Chan) and Roy O’Bannon (Wilson) travel to late 19th century England as their exploits involve tracking down the sinister individual who was responsible for killing the Wang patriarch. Accompanying the troublesome twosome in London is the lovely Lin (fetching Singapore actress Fann Wong), the kid sister of Chon. Together, they happen to stumble across a diabolical plot overseen by the scheming Rathbone (Aiden Gillen)—the menace behind the untimely death of Chon and Lin’s father. Apparently, Rathbone is a very busy beaver in that he hopes to eliminate the Royal family thus propelling him to the sacred English throne. Also, the rambunctious Rathbone holds the sacred reigns of a Chinese emperor’s imperial seal. Looking to claim the emperorship of China is Rathbone’s opportunistic accomplice Wu Yip (Donnie Yen). The agenda is quite clear for these power-hungry pests—they both demand the right to command their respective countries and will stop it nothing to attain their ultimate goal.

In the meanwhile, the trio is getting their hands dirty as they encounter all sorts of raucous resistance. This showcase is pure brainless fun as well as an elaborate exercise for the cheeky partnership of Chan and Wilson to drift off into several smirking scenarios where their obvious racial differences and clashing personalities dictate the flow of the nonsensical chaos taken place. Helping out The Wangs and O’Bannon in the anticipation of completing their mission are tagalongs in the form of inept Scotland Yard detective Artie Doyle (Tom Fisher) and a juvenile street urchin named Charlie (Aaron Johnson).

Shanghai Knights is an excitable action-adventure that also works pleasingly as an impish costume period piece. Both Chan and Wilson continue their comfortable on-screen nutty antics amidst the silly-minded sight gags and creative frantic fight sequences that are very inventive if not cleverly campy to boot (look out for the fruit market scene where one will most likely get a hearty chuckle while shake their head in absolute amazement). Sure, it’s more of the same one-trick pony premise that the two leads rode so joyously in the box office busting Wild West predecessor Noon. If Chan is not causing havoc by astutely directing his chopsocky charm to spoofing such gems as Singin’ in the Rain and the Keystone Cops (a giddy reference based on the bumbling British police whom he battles with inspired goofy flair courtesy of a revolving door as his choice of weapon) then Wilson completes the puzzle with his out-of-sync roguish blonde beach boy arrogance. Fann is absolutely wonderful as the alluring Lin, a sensual dove but nevertheless one tough cookie when it comes to kicking some serious tail! She certainly is more than an acceptable stand-in for Noon’s Lucy Lui. Both Gillen and Yen enthusiastically rise to the occasion as the frothy foes meant to give our heroes some ruthless static cling.

Dobkin wisely stocks up on the tongue-in-cheek ammunition by kinetically pacing Knights with an array of comical confrontations, flashy sword-style showdowns, daring chases and escapes, interestingly vile villains and a vibrating Carney Street retro-sound of classic English rock songs on the film’s soundtrack which bring out the jittery and jolting aspect of the movie’s devilish carefree spiritedness. In fact, the film makes a gallant mention of attempting to incorporate some well-known history into the wacky proceedings—most notably featuring a key Harold Lloyd-esque moment where Chan takes on the aura of Big Ben. Briefly, even the notorious Jack the Ripper (Oliver Cotton) figures into the merry madness.

It is not often when a sequel manages to top its previous installment thus being a worthy escapist entertainment in its own right. Clearly, Shanghai Knights has its conventional spry edginess and moviegoers will definitely rejoice in seeing the riotous combo of the Chan-Wilson connection engage in the hedonism of their fast-paced foolish frolicking. If you can overlook the ridiculously transparent plot that is about as breakable as a pair of chop sticks then you would come to easily appreciate the razzle-dazzle artistry of this overzealous chop-and-sock kooky comedy.

Who knows…maybe Wang and O’Bannon may find further adventures as unlikely restaurant workers in the Far East looking to weed out the evildoers who want to take over their mentor’s moneymaking food operation? Anyone ready for a third go-around in Shanghai Bus Boys?

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Frank Ochieng



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