*Shanghai Knights (PG-13)
In spite of director David Dobkin's nonsensical use of '60s rock classics like The Who's "Magic Bus," to underscore action sequences that would work better without the influence of commercial music, Shanghai Knights is a vast improvement on its predecessor Shanghai Noon.
Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson have refined their grasp of one another's comedic styles since their first film together, and David Dobkin's direction is paced at a livelier tempo. Owen Wilson more confidently modulates his signature dry modern humor, adding comic momentum to Chan's perfectly choreographed fights and stunts.
Since their last adventure, Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) has let his hair grow and become sheriff of Carson City, Nevada, while Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson) now works as a "waiter/gigolo" at the Ritz Hotel in New York. While Wang has been keeping the peace, Roy has squandered their fortune in gold on publishing exaggerated novels about the duo's prior escapades.
Meanwhile, in the wintry Forbidden City of Shanghai, China, Wang's estranged father (Kim S. Chan) is assassinated by Britain's evil Lord Rathbone (Aiden Gillen) to obtain the Imperial Seal of China, an exquisite gem the size of a billiard ball. Wang's sister Chon Lin, energetically played by Singapore beauty Fann Wong, valiantly tries to defend her father during the attack using her nimble martial arts skills, but is eventually overtaken by Rathbone's henchmen.
Before Wang and Roy reach England to avenge the murder and recover the Imperial Seal, Lin has already arrived in London and been arrested by Scotland Yard for attempting to kill Lord Rathbone. And Jackie Chan has by now performed a mesmerizing revolving door set piece with a bunch of 19th century New York cops in the Ritz lobby to warm the audience up for the near-slapstick tenor of the film's London-based comedy.
First on the priority list is an extended martial arts romp for Chan in, around and on top of a British fruit and vegetable market. Chan makes exceptional use of umbrellas, lemons and even the market's tarp awning to eradicate a legion of British Bobbies attempting to arrest our American duo for their flamboyant commotion. The recently escaped Lin, with whom Roy becomes instantly smitten, soon joins our duo, and Rathbone's evil ally Wu Chan (Donnie Yen) reveals himself, granting Chan more opportunities for fast punches and spinning kicks.
Lin poses an obstacle to the womanizing that Roy hopes to do in London, but more importantly Fann Wong brings a fresh-faced fury of female martial arts technique to Shanghai Knights, that movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have employed to noble effect. Wong brings a unifying chemistry to the comic relationship between Chan and Wilson that is exploited with comic pathos when Wang tries to discourage Lin from being seduced by his sidekick, while Roy himself eavesdrops outside their door. A rift threatens to doom our duo's friendship until Roy realizes that every bad thing Wang told his sister about him is true. It's an event that exposes each of the trio's distinct level of loyalty and pride, and raises the stakes for the budding romance at hand.
Shanghai Knights is full of little references to Harold Lloyd (see the clock finale), lending a traditional context to Jackie Chan's own special brand of physical comedy. Chan's stunts have gotten tamer over his last few films, but he remains a special breed of entertainer who will go to any length to delight himself and his audience with gleeful physical surprises. I'd take an average Jackie Chan movie over any other kind of mediocre film any day of the week.
-- Cole Smithey