THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"SHANGHAI KNIGHTS"

I have a regular diet of bad movie sequels, so when I find one that actually works, my enthusiasm really perks up. Sitting through dull rehashes like Analyze That or Star Trek: Nemesis really can be a depressing experience. When a sequel is able to make me enjoy something a second time – well, that’s a kind of movie magic. I enjoyed 2000’s Shanghai Noon. Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but a fun one. It didn’t seem like sequel material, though. Something about it was too thin to really support another trip to the well. The follow-up, dubbed Shanghai Knights, is a surprise then, because I actually enjoyed it a little more than the original.

Jackie Chan returns as Chon Wang, now a sheriff in Carson City, Nevada. He receives a message from his sister Lin (Fann Wong) back in China saying that their father has been murdered. She has followed the killers – a Brit named Rathbone (Aidan Gillen) and a Chinese Boxer named Wu Chan – to England, where she plans to exact revenge. Chon wants to help, so he travels to New York to locate old pal Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson). Time has not been kind to Roy; he lost the money he was supposed to be “investing” for Chon, and now he works a menial job. Feeling like he owes Chon something, Roy agrees to tag along for assistance.

One of the first people they meet in London is Artie (Tom Fisher), a Scotland Yard inspector who is able to use his powers of deduction and reason to solve crimes. It does not take long to figure out that Rathbone, who is tenth in line to the throne, has plans to off the nine people before him. Wu Chan, meanwhile, plans to use Chon’s stolen “family seal” to put himself in power back in China.

With two prime villains, you know that Shanghai Knights is going to offer Jackie Chan a lot of ass to kick. As expected, the movie is full of imaginatively choreographed fight scenes. Chan is a master of that fighting style in which anything can be a weapon. One of my favorite moments is a fight inspired by, of all things, Singin’ in the Rain. The title song plays on the soundtrack while Chan dances with an umbrella, whacking bad guys mercilessly. The film has fun with other movie conventions as well. You know those rotating fireplaces that you always see in movies? You know – the ones that spin around when you pull a certain book on the shelf? Shanghai Knights has a farcical fight scene in which Chon goes mano-a-mano with a thug while spinning on one of those. Roy, meanwhile, only seems to be looking when his pal is on the opposite side. I just love how inventive this movie is with the action.

Jackie Chan admits he’s now too old to do the same types of death-defying stunts he did in his most ambitious Hong Kong movies. He seems to have found a new prototype for his movies, though, often pairing himself with an unlikely partner. This formula was done to great success with Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour movies, and to much lesser success with Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Tuxedo (a movie I still liked). Owen Wilson makes a good co-star; his laid-back pseudo-surfer persona is an inherently humorous contrast. In fact, Wilson gets most of the movie’s laughs, some of which are very big.

Shanghai Knights tosses in some witty side gags (including the suggestion that two of the characters later became famous people) and a clever finale inside the famous Big Ben clock. I had a lot of fun with this movie. It’s like everyone involved studied the original movie, then found ways to improve upon it. You gotta love that kind of ambition. Rather than coasting by, the makers of this movie have worked to make it funnier and more entertaining – and they’ve succeeded.

( out of four)


Shanghai Knights is rated PG-13 for violence and some sexual huor. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

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