Shanghai Knights (2003)

reviewed by
Karina Montgomery

Shanghai Knights
Catch it on HBO

Lo, how the mighty have fallen. The Tuxedo aside, I am a Jackie Chan fan. Between his genial aw-shucks personality, superhuman feats of agility & creativity, and his comedic timing, what's not to love? Paired with Owen Wilson, Chan gets to marry culture clash with witty comedy. Shanghai Noon (this film's predecessor) was a fun romp of comedy and adventure through the Old West. Knights takes place some time later, but this time in Victorian England, where both our hapless heroes are fish out of water. In addition, our adversaries-cum-friends are now circling each other with levels of distrust that seem faked in order to recreate their snappy chemistry from the first time around. The film is low on action scenes, mediumish on comedy, and high on getting these guys in touch with their feelings about each other. The movie goes to so much trouble to foster discontent, it then has to work doubly hard to bring it back. Perhaps no buddy movie should ever be a sequel. The temptation is irresistible; but the tension is gone and it's just yuk yuk remember the days for 90 minutes. Noon won our hearts as two opposed characters found their commonality through shared shenanigans. Knights forces them to misunderstand each other so they have something to do.

Don't get me wrong - Jackie's still got it. Notably, the sequel's big action pieces are all direct and rather brilliant homages to classic Hollywood set pieces. For all that Chan is rightfully compared to Buster Keaton, he (or the choreographer?) clearly sat down and watched countless hours of Charlie Chaplin movies before making this one. Other great film moments are honored as well but Chaplin is in every crevice. These sequences really are a delight, and serve to emphasize how flat the remainder of the movie is. Singing in the Rain and the Keystone Cops and other iconic moments add laughs and tension. It's nice how differently the fights were choreographed as a result - somewhat slower and more dancelike, but entirely different, even more organic than other films' fights. Chan fights with beauty and cleverness, humanity and humor, and that is why we flock to see him. Wilson is the Jackie Chan of the verbal riposte, and when he's not complaining about something he gets to do a good deal of his moves as well, but it just doesn't gel.

Aiden Gillen as the Gary Oldman-wannabe villain Rathbone (ha ha) woodenly struts his star-up IPO hair through the film, inviting queries of "why did they cast this guy?" A battle near the end will clear up any questions as to Mr. Gillen's worth in this film: bravo fight coordinator! Just to make the unnecessarily complex plot more unlikely (and I know how that sounds in a review of an action movie), have our feckless friends also bump into and deeply influence one or two other famous Brits of the time; it is an interesting and amusing conceit to have two colonials have such an impact on the British, eh pip pip, what?

Overall, however, Knights was a thin sequel to Noon. I don't know if it is the writing or the long long stretches of not-much in between plot movement and/or fight scenes, but something is missing. Sure, there's a little wire work. Chan's earned it, by golly, and did I mention he's still got it? Naturally it was still far, far better than the Tuxedo, but still a disappointment.

-- ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ These reviews (c) 2003 Karina Montgomery. Please feel free to forward but just credit the reviewer in the text. Thanks. Check out previous reviews at: - the Online Film Critics Society - Hollywood Stock Exchange Brokerage Resource for 1999 releases

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