Shanghai Knights (2003)

2013 #90
David Dobkin | 106 mins* | TV | 16:9** | USA & Hong Kong / English & Mandarin | 12 / PG-13

Shanghai KnightsJackie Chan and Owen Wilson are back as… um… whatever their characters were called, in this follow-up to Shanghai Noon, which I presume was a commercial success but I found somewhat lacking. Here, in a storyline possibly created after someone thought up the title, Chan and Wilson travel to London on a mission to stop someone evil doing something bad.

The plot isn’t really the point with these films, is it? No, that’s the twin delights of humour and action — and as ever, it’s Chan’s action scenes that are the highlight. They’re inventive, exciting, funny, and the speed and dexterity with which they’re performed is often astounding. Those are definitely the reason to watch. And for fans of Hong Kong martial arts movies, this is the first on-screen battle between Chan and Donnie Yen. Bonus. (Apparently the DVD & Blu-ray releases include “full” versions of four fights amongst their special features, which makes me slightly tempted to make a purchase.)

As for the humour… well, there are fewer poor comedy asides than last time, though one in particular (a pillow fight in a brothel) goes on far too long. There’s also, with hindsight, a supporting role on the unintentionally-amusing/fascinating spectrum: a fairly major supporting role for a 12-year-old Aaron Johnson — now Aaron Taylor-Johnson, aka John Lennon, Kick-Ass, etc. Aww, bless ‘im, etc.

Funny buddiesKnights as a whole feels like it moves better than its predecessor — it gets going quicker, without the need to establish these characters and force them together; there’s a greater reliance on those quality action sequences. The guest cast feels a bit bargain basement, though the villains — Aiden Gillen and the aforementioned Yen — are of a higher calibre. This means we’re treated to a pair of great climaxes, with Chan first having that punch-up with Yen, followed by a three-sword duel with Gillen (or possibly a stuntman).

Sadly, it’s not all so rosy. England looks more like the Czech Republic (where, as a mid-’00s Hollywood production set in The Past, it was of course filmed). There are dreadful music choices, again — a weird mash-up of modern songs (I say “modern” — terribly dated to turn-of-the-millennium now), left-over Western themes, and an over-long riff on Singin’ in the Rain that doesn’t fit at all. And it plays fast and loose with history, taking in historical figures like Charlie Chaplin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack the Ripper and Queen Victoria, plus messing around with the geography of Stonehenge, the origins of Sherlock Holmes, and more. IMDb list 23 anachronisms in all. But hey, it’s a comedy action movie! Sadly, these divergences are rarely to great comedic effect.

First time for everythingIn the end, I’m not sure if I like it more or less than the first film. The Western setting was a smoother fit in many ways, but here there’s a less stodgy plot, a general reduction in the overlong comedy sequences, and even better action sequences. All things considered, I think Knights may actually have the edge.

3 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2013. Read more here.

* This is the TV running time. According to the BBFC, the PAL time is 110 minutes. ^
** It’s cropped again, though not so noticeably this time. ^

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