Shanghai Knights (2003)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Rush Hour 2

Iron Monkey

The Accidental Spy

Shanghai Knights

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

Let's see... In Iron Monkey Donnie Yen
played the father of the character Chan
played in Legend of Drunken Master,
and Yen tried to kill that same character
in Once Upon a Time in China II.
Freud would have
loved naming that complex.
Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson return in what may be the least likely sequel of the year. Shanghai Noon was a very enjoyable film, but considering it opened during the summer movie season, it was a bit of a dud at the box office. But it must have done pretty well on video because here's the sequel, complete with more action and more expensive locations.

The first order of business in Shanghai Knights is to trash the status quo established at the end of Shanghai Noon. When we last saw ex-Imperial Guard Chon Wang (Chan) and ex-outlaw Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) they were both sheriffs, and they both looked on the way to marrying their love interests. As Knights opens Wang is still sheriff of Carson City, but Lucy Liu's character has moved to San Francisco. O'Bannon has apparently abandoned his Native American sweetie and moved to New York to pursue a number of get rich schemes, though he spends most of his time as a waiter and gigolo at a swank hotel.

Time passes slowly when
you're just hanging around.
But the movie actually starts with a prologue in China, complete with costumes, sets, and fight choreography from an old Shaw Brothers film. Chon's father is killed protecting the Imperial seal of China, which is stolen by Lord Rathbone (Aidan Gillen). Chon's sister, Lin (Fann Wong) vows to kill the Lord, and travels to London to do so but is captured and incarcerated. But before leaving China she sent word to Chon, and he wants to go to London too. All this creates the impetus for Chon and Roy to travel to old Blighty.

Once there the movie drops the running gag from the first film about Chon's being a fish out of water. Chon seems to take England in stride. It's Roy who can't seem to cope with the accents, the food, and the weather. He fights back by reminding all the British people he can find how the American Revolution ended. Wilson is funny as usual, especially when he gets exasperated.

Lord Rathbone, who always wears black, is in cahoots with the Chinese emperor's illegitimate brother Wu Yip (Donnie Yen), who also wears black, to assassinate the entire British royal family and become king. Our heroes sniff around the edges of this plot, getting in fights with various goons, ruffians and flunkies. And sometimes the movie embarks on bizarre comedy oriented tangents to places like Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and a Whitechapel bordello. It would be best to just ignore the plot, because it's not very important. It just gets the characters from one situation to another. Does it really make sense that Rathbone would steal a heavily guarded artifact just to hire Wu Yip for a plan that boils down to firing a machine gun at the royal family? Surely there must be temp agencies that fill this kind of position for cheaper than a unique, priceless artifact! But a better question would be is it funny to watch Chan and Wilson wander around an old castle complete with secret passages? The answer is yes, and nearly anything is worth it to get them there.

"Dear lord, I wish Anna Nicole
would keep her clothes on!"
The ultimate goal of Shanghai Knights is to recreate the feel of a zany Abbott and Costello from the 1940s or 50s. It has that same combination of a physical comedian who gets caught in all kinds of scrapes and a wise ass who can't believe what's happening. Jackie Chan has never been shy about paying homage to the film comedians of the past, but this film takes it to a whole new level. There are direct references to nearly every major comedian from the earlier days of cinema, including Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, the Keystone Cops, and in one very amusing sequence, Gene Kelly. The Abbott and Costello likeness is so strong that the film begins to resemble Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a little too much. The movie references continue elsewhere as well: The evil sheriff Van Cleef in the first film was a reference to perennial Western slimeball actor Lee Van Cleef, and Gillen's Rathbone is based on Basil Rathbone's villainous turn in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

"I see you in a movie with Eddie Murphy!
It'll make two hundred million easy!"
If you're a fan of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong films, the fight scenes in Shanghai Knights won't disappoint you. Previous to this film all of the fights in Jackie's U.S. films have seemed truncated and the editing was usually a little off. Apparently Jackie was given much more freedom this time around. As a matter of fact, the fights greatly resemble those in Jackie's earlier film Miracles. Like that film, the physical displays are prop heavy (even for Jackie, who never seems to be happier than when he's doing chair fu), and more comic than violent. The standout fight scene is the one Jackie has with Iron Monkey's Donnie Yen underneath an out of control machine gun. American martial arts film don't get any better than this.

Shanghai Knights ends with a final touch that may be historically ludicrous, but acts as a tip of the hat to the people who inspired the direction of Jackie Chan's career. And it even makes the "Chon Wang" joke from the first film funny again. That alone is reason enough to see the movie.

Review date: 02/06/2003

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