Getting the most out of Shanghai Knights involves ignoring a few bad storytelling tropes which are played all the up to eleven: The martial artist going out to avenge his dead father, the whole younger sibling/older sibling dynamic, and a precocious little scamp of a kid you just want to fucking smack.
Let's face it, though: Anyone who watches Shanghai Knights isn't doing it for its pristine storytelling. They're watching it because Jackie Chan is one of those unique people in the world who once looked at a priceless china vase and asked himself, "Now, just HOW can something like THAT be used to hurt people?" Then he set about risking very real injury in performing a ridiculous real-time sequence which can explore the many uses of a vase in a fight against a small army of men armed with swords. Thanks to Jackie Chan, many martial arts movie viewers have discovered creative new uses for ladders, refrigerators, umbrellas, and many other little everyday objects no one thinks of when they think of deadly weapons.
Shanghai Knights is the sequel to Shanghai Noon, the martial arts western with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Our main hero from Shanghai Noon, Chon Wang, is back, and he's now running the Sheriff Department in his adopted home of Carson City, Nevada. He also has a younger sister who still lives out in China. Also, his father was apparently the keeper of something called the Imperial Seal. Now, at the moment China is still being run by the British, and a certain man who is currently tenth in line for the throne yearns to be number one in the hierarchy. He's not willing to wait his turn, either, and so his first plan in shooting from worst to first is to steal the Imperial Seal. Senior Wang and his daughter offer up some token resistance, but pop is killed while the little girl runs off. His next step is to kill off the entire rest of the royal family using a new invention called the machine gun at the Queen's 50th Anniversary ceremony.
Word gets around to Chon. Although he wasn't especially close to his father, he does feel the need to get to the bottom of things and find some closure on the issue. So he sets out…. To New York City, to find his good old friend Roy! Roy apparently has a little bit of funding that Chon needs, but Chon hits a little snafu when Roy says he doesn't actually have the money. He apparently blew it all on an investment choice: Between the zeppelin and the automobile, Roy chose to mock the automobile and see it as the dead end. Also, he's been writing a series of popular adventure novels under a pseudonym. And this thread doesn't actually go anywhere. It's just there to establish Roy as a bumbler who is in a "transitional phase." And it doesn't keep the victorian-era 48 Hours duo from getting to London, either.
Shanghai Knights is a movie in which you have to suffer through some nasty getting-started bumps in order to reach the real rewards. The reason Hollywood keeps churning out the same buddy formula they've been doing since at least the original 48 Hours is, of course, because it's an easy way to cash in using the old "…. and hilarity ensues!" formula. Two different characters don't go together, but they make the best of their situation. Well, upon having Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson thrown together, they really don't go well together at first, either. Wilson seems too laid-back, easygoing, and dim compared to Chan. In many scenes, he actually comes off as a bit of a redneck. I do admire the handful of scenes in which the script is able to turn racist stereotypes onto their heads, and Roy does appear to have a brain when he needs to call on one, but mostly his whole gag is a very inflated sense of undeserved self-worth.
Eventually, the imbalance gets less noticeable, but it never really sorts itself out. Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan just don't have any real chemistry. They don't have any of the sizzle and pop that Chan shared with Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour series. From the first moment Chan hooked up with Tucker, it was easy to feel the electricity in the air. Wilson? Not so much. For the first half of the movie, Wilson seems like he's only half there. He doesn't really show up until his character needs to step up in the finale.
A good chunk of Shanghai Knights could very easily have been thrown right out the window. Some kid straight from the works of Charles Dickens shows up and takes a pocket watch that's precious to Wilson, and Roy's entire introduction could have just as easily been left on the cutting room floor.
Of course, the practical upside of all the bloat, though, is that we get to see more of Jackie Chan doing exactly what he does best! I'm convinced that's exactly why Shanghai Knights was extended to the lengths it was, with so much half-assedly thrown in. To give us more Jackie! For Chan, there's a major difference between working within the constraints of a budget in Hong Kong and working within the "constraints" of a budget in Los Angeles. I said in my last review that the appeal of martial arts movies is watching the actors do everything themselves. Some of the great stars do use stunt people for really big, dangerous stunts. Not Chan, though. He's popular because he does EVERYTHING himself. That's Chan jumping in and out of the canvas cover early on, and that's him in the finale riding a giant Union Jack down to safety.
Shanghai Knights is more Chan's movie than Wilson's, and it features everything the entire world has come to love about him: The frenzied, long, creative, and outright zany fights with improvised weapons are here. His rubber-faced comedic style of acting is here too. His Buster Keaton-inspired superstunts - Chan's trademark - also find a fitting home. All of them are ramped up to a level Chan's Hong Kong budgets usually can't afford him, and so as far as Chan's Hollywood productions go, Shanghai Knights would come off as one of his supreme masterpieces if only it weren't for a single element. Unfortunately, Owen Wilson is that element. Given Wilson's delivery and character, he tends to come off as more of an annoying color commentator too often for me to truly enjoy the movie. Whereas Chris Tucker came off as Chan's compliment in Rush Hour, a man who got the one-line zingers to even out Chan getting the big fights and stunts, Wilson looks like he can barely comprehend what's going on half the time. He's the one who gets the love story, and if that is supposed to be the even steven for Chan doing the legwork, it's no match.
Shanghai Knights is more than worthy of a pickup for martial arts movie buffs and Jackie Chan fans. Owen Wilson fans will be better off renting one of Wilson's other movies, though. Although he does have his moments in Shanghai Knights, he's the biggest obstacle in it - and he's one obstacle Jackie Chan just can't overcome.
Pros: Chan and Wilson make a great team. Cons: Nothing new storywise. The Bottom Line: Not a bad diversion and Chan and Wilson make a great team. The buddy comedy film has its roots buried deeply into the Hollywood historical archives. One need look no further than the classic Road movies of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope to see that even in the Golden Age of Hollywood, this formula was a proven winner. Through … more
In this entertaining sequel to SHANGHAI NOON, Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) and Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson) are reunited on an adventure that leads them to Great Britain. Upon hearing of his father's murder in China at the hands of Englishman Lord Rathbone (Aidan Gillen), Wang leaves his law-enforcing life in Nevada and heads east. In New York City, he tracks down Roy, who now works as a waiter/gigolo. After a close encounter with New York's finest, Wang and Roy travel to London, where they team up with Wang's sister, Lin (Fann Wong), also out to avenge their father's death. Their search uncovers a plot to assassinate the royal family and brings them into contact with many touchstones of turn-of-the-20th-century British culture. <br> <br> A fitting follow-up to Chan and Wilson's first pairing, SHANGHAI KNIGHTS takes the fish-out-of-water element of the original and doubles it, as both Wang and Roy navigate the highs and lows of Victorian London. Chan, as always, astounds with a series of acrobatic fight sequen...