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Shanghai Knights (PG-13)
Official Site
Director: David Dobkin
Producers: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman
Written by: Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
Cast: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Aidan Gillen, Fann Wong, Thomas Fischer, Donnie Yen, Aaron Johnson

Rating: out of 5

The movie starts in the forbidden city, introducing Chon’s father and sister Lin (Wong) as guardians of the imperial seal. The seal is an item of unparalleled value so of course it is stolen by the devious Lord Rathbone (Gillen) who kills Chon’s father in the process. Chon (Chan) gets word from his sister and heads out to London by way of New York City, picking up his friend Roy O’Bannon (Wilson) to recover the seal and seek revenge. Rathbone is also conspiring with the bastard heir to the throne of China (Yen) and the two of them each wish to seize power in their respective native lands.

Jackie Chan flicks always have lighter-than-air plots and this one is no exception. Really, his movies are excuses for some amusing fights with a smattering of comedy in between. Helpfully here those in-between moments are some of the more enjoyable parts of the picture. The two stars have genuine comic chemistry, with Wilson as the lovable rogue and Chan as the straight man. When O’Bannon, who can’t say no to anything female, starts making a play for the extremely desirable Lin, Chan gets to come into his own and despite questionable mastery of English it works—the look on his face is in and of itself enough to elicit laughs. Of course Wilson is more than up the task. His unique blend of quirks and the ability to deliver the silliest lines with conviction all help this production.

The film features several fights, all choreographed by Jackie Chan himself and they are, like the rest of the movie fun and silly all at once. Chan uses an assortment of props—swords, vases, umbrellas, etc., in a variety of interesting though not original action scenes. Fann Wong is clearly capable of kicking people in the face and does so on numerous occasions and Owen Wilson gets to hang back and look goofy. Donnie Yen is a man of not inconsiderable martial arts talent. He choreographed Blade II and starred in Hong Kong films, but unfortunately he is not given the opportunity to express those talents here. His one fight with Chan was all too brief. Likewise the fight with Gillen, who appears to have some sword experience, lacked the typical Chan panache. Chan did not demonstrate any of his acrobatic abilities or improvisational martial arts during the duel with Gillen and the camera position made the action difficult to follow.

Shanghai Knights may leave hardcore martial arts fans wanting more, but should please everybody else. The jokes are obvious, but the relentless enthusiasm of the two stars guarantees amusement. The movie takes advantage of the opportunity to poke fun at history by the portrayals of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack the Ripper, and Charlie Chaplin. (The last is especially interesting, as Chan borrows heavily from the works of Charlie Chaplin.) Innovative choices in the music department keep the vibe of this film light, and while the end destination is never in doubt the journey is so much fun. This is just a B-movie, but everyone is working their hardest to make the best of it.

Throughout the movie Chon Wang says to his partner, “Who loves you, baby?” right before the fun begins. Surely though, Jackie Chan must love us, for here is a man willing to put his life on the line to entertain and the fun begins whenever he is on screen. While some of us yearn for a return to the glory days of Jackie Chan’s superhuman stunts, those days are over. But with his talent as a born entertainer and the help of talented co-stars like Owen Wilson more fun is yet to come. So Mr. Chan: Who loves you baby? We do!

—Woodrow Bogucki


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