Shanghai Knights (2003)
Review by Doc Ezra

Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar
Directed by David Dobkin
Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Donnie Yen, Fann Wong, and Aidan Gillen


Released by: Buena Vista
Region: 1
Rating: PG-13
Anamorphic: Yes, 2.35:1

My Advice: Rent it. Chan die-hards should own it.

Chon Wang (Chan) has settled into a comfortable frontier life in the American West as a town sheriff in Carson City. Despite some mild irritation at the dime novels detailing the exploits of legendary cowboy Roy O'Bannon (Wilson), all of which mention the "Shanghai Kid" as little more than a goofy sidekick constantly in need of rescuing, he's pretty content with his lot. He's rounding up bad guys and putting them away, the townsfolk like him, and he's got a trusty horse. This means, of course, that things are bound to go wrong.

The bad news comes in the form of a letter from Chon's sister Lin (Wong), reporting the murder of Chon's father and the theft of the Imperial Seal that their family has been entrusted to guard for twelve generations. Having tracked the killer to London, Lin now wants Chon's help in this blood vendetta. Handing in his badge, gun, and horse to his deputy, Chon sets out for New York City to get his half of the gold that Roy had invested for him, only to discover Roy waiting tables and seducing women for money.

Despite this unexpected turn of events, Chon and Roy manage to make it to London, where they quickly tumble to a dangerous plot to replace both the Emperor of China and the Queen of England in a bloody coup in both countries. The only way to stop this plot is to recover the Imperial Seal and save Queen Victoria, all while trying to keep Lin out of prison (and away from Roy) and themselves out of the morgue.

Shanghai Knights follows the classic Jackie Chan formula in his made-for-America movies: pair the legendary action star up with an unlikely sidekick, place them out of their element, and watch the hilarity ensue between fight scenes. Despite being, in this sense, formulaic, the film works quite well, with only a few minor glitches that mar an otherwise excellent action comedy. Foremost, the writers absolutely cannot resist throwing real historical personages into the mix, regardless of the accuracy and appropriateness of the situation. A running gag involving a street urchin Charlie Chaplin (who wasn't born until two years after the movie is set), a sidekick Scotland Yard detective named Artie Doyle, and a chance run-in between Lin and Jack the Ripper are only three of the more groan-worthy examples. One or two such moments work quite well in a movie like this (much like Roy's misinterpretation of Chon's name in the first film), but it becomes such a tired cliché by the end of this one that it's painful to see.

The action sequences are, as is to be expected, top notch. An amusing tribute to Gene Kelly breaks out spontaneously during an umbrella fu sequence, but is executed with a touch more subtlety than most of the rest of the movie's in-jokes. Donnie Yen makes an excellent match for Chan on-screen, and the two Hong Kong veterans provide one of the movie's highlight sequences. Credit is due to Aidan Gillen for some fantastic swordplay, though.

The DVD has not one, but two commentary tracks, though neither really explains why the creators felt it necessary to try and cram every notable of 19th century London into the picture in some cheesy pun or another. Dobkin's commentary is interesting stuff, though the writers' track isn't nearly as worthwhile. With a film that doesn't precisely stand on the strength of its script so much as the strength of its kung fu, this is hardly surprising. The deleted scenes total another half-hour of footage, most of which needed to be cut, but the extended fight sequences are a great plus for Chan's fans.

This one's definitely worth a rental, particularly if you saw and enjoyed the first installment. While not quite as strong a movie as the original, this one delivers both enough laughs and enough snap kicks to keep things more than a little entertaining.

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