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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Shanghai Knights  


Shanghai Knights

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: David Dobkin
Writing Credits: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Cast: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Aaron Johnson, Fann Wong
Language: English
Country: USA
Genre: Action
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 114 min
Rating: ** (out of four stars)

In a year where the Chinese New Year releases are particularly lackluster, Shanghai Knights has become the most high-profile film released during this festive season. The sequel to the relatively successful movie Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights has been getting a lot of attention in Singapore due to one reason the film stars our own local starlet, Fann Wong, in her Hollywood debut. Is it any good, however? Well, Shanghai Knights is basically the typical MOTS (more of the same) sequel, and it makes no attempt at introducing any new elements to the franchise. It still has the same Jackie Chan stunts, the same Owen Wilson wisecracks, the same type of villains, and the same anachronism of the first movie. Everything has been upped a notch, but this isn’t always good news.

Again set in the 1880s, Shanghai Knights continues the tale of Chon John WayneWang (geddit?) (Jackie Chan), whom after rescuing Princess Pei Pei in the previous adventure, had settled in Carson City in America as Sheriff. He learns from his sister Lin (Fann Wong) that their father, the Keeper of the Imperial Seal, had been murdered, and the Seal stolen from China. Lin is on the trails of the villain, Lord Rathbone (Aiden Gillen), who also happens to be part of the British royal family. Wang decides to join her in London, but to do so, he needs to get his share of the gold (garnered from the previous adventure) back from his conniving friend, Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson). Roy has moved upstate to New York, and Wang thinks that he has settled down but obviously, old habits die hard, and Roy is just as much of a con man as before. He’s lost all the gold and is now working as a salaried worker cum gigolo.

After much misadventure, Roy and Wang finally make it to London, where they seek help from a bumbling Scotland Yard detective called Artie (Tom Fisher), and have a couple of run-ins with a street urchin Charlie (Aaron Johnson). Soon, with the help of Lin, the trio uncovers Rathbone’s sinister plot to succeed the throne, with the aid of Wu Yip (Donnie Yen), who has his eyes set on the throne in China. Sparks also fly between Lin and Roy (inevitably), but Wang is worried that Roys heartbreaker mentality hasn’t changed, and his little sister would be hurt in the process.

This is the fourth Hollywood film in the same vein for Jackie Chan, and things are getting old really fast. Interracial duo movies have been done to death in the 80s and early 90s, and Jackie Chan’s Hollywood films thus far have not invigorated the genre, despite earning respectable amounts at the box office. The man needs something new. Director David Dobkin (taking over from Tom Dey of Shanghai Noon) allows the two lead characters to fall into their preassigned roles Jackie Chan plays the straight man and performs all the stunts, whilst Owen Wilson is the one with all the jokes and bon mots. No attempt at characterization has been made, but this is not a type of film that depends on the depth of its characters anyway. At least the stunts are back on par with Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong films, including an amusing sequence which borrows from Singin’ In the Rain, and another sequence involving revolving doors that, while pointless, is interesting and harkens back to scenes that could be found in films of the 20s and 30s.

The jokes don't always work. In fact, the hit-to-miss ratio of Wilsons wisecracks is pretty low, bringing on at most an amused smile most of the time. The anachronism that was present in the first film has returned with a vengeance, this time almost on an unacceptable level. Owen Wilsons beach surfer style of talking is fun, but including airships (1920s), automobiles (1900s), a rock-and-roll soundtrack (1960s), and referring to the movie business (1910s) is plainly ridiculous. Writers Alfred Gough and Miles Miller even include some blatant name-dropping (Charlie Chaplin and Sherlock Holmes are just two examples) that, once revealed, feels cheap and patronizing to the audience. Its more a duh! response, rather than a laugh, and detracts from the film, especially since most of the name-dropping can be seen from a mile away. Yet once again, the outtakes at the end of the film are the funniest parts of the movie (always a sign of trouble), but even the outtakes felt more subdued than before.

Of course, then there’s Fann Wong, whose role is undoubtedly more relevant to Singaporeans than anyone else. I am glad to say that she isn’t a complete vase in the show, but she isn't much better. Fann does get a small share of the stunts, but they could have spent more effort in looking for a stunt double that resembled her just a little bit more. The difference between Fann and her double is so large that it would be impossible not to realize when the double is onscreen instead of her. She also needs to improve on her diction Jackie Chan has had much improvement with every new Hollywood film he makes, and Fann’s stilted delivery of her lines is her largest stumbling block. She’s also crippled by a very unconvincing romance between Owen Wilson, as practically no sparks fly between the two actors. She looks very good in Shanghai Knights, however, and this could bode well for her international career. In all, Shanghai Knights isn’t exactly stellar entertainment, but it’s a marked improvement for Jackie Chan as compared to the terrible The Tuxedo, and for mindless festive season entertainment, it fits the bill well.

Final Word: A mediocre comedy that is showing up Jackie Chan’s limitations in Hollywood, Shanghai Knights is passable entertainment, but nothing more than that.