The film “Shanghai Noon” hit theatres in 2000 looking to be yet another buddy picture in the near-clich “Odd Couple” tradition. The formula wasn’t anything new to co-star Jackie Chan who had already had success with “Rush Hour”.
Surprisingly, “Shanghai Noon” managed to tread new ground in the genre, creating its own style of action that can only be described as a “martial arts western.”
The sequel, “Shanghai Knights” doesn’t alter the formula much, smoothly transitioning from the Wild West to Victorian England.
This time around, Chon Wang, played by the ageless Jackie Chan, must avenge his father’s murder and contacts his old friend Roy O’Bannon for help. O’Bannon is played by the ever-charismatic Owen Wilson. The pair will not be alone however, as Wang’s sister, played by newcomer Fann Wong, joins them this time.
Wilson delivers a solid performance as the foul-minded cowboy with a heart of gold and a brain of brass. He plays off of Chan even better this go around, and while his lines aren’t always exceptionally written, he pulls them off nicely. The movie is almost worth watching just to hear Wilson refer to Chan as a “decadent philistine.”
Chan steals the show however, as director David Dobkin (“Clay Pigeons”) beefs up the action considerably, not in only in quantity, but in quality. Virtually anything is a potential weapon in the hands of Chan, from a revolving door, to a handful of lemons, to a tented rooftop!
Chan proves that as a comedic talent he is seriously under-rated, as he quips and flips his way through the movie in his own peculiar style of both wit and physical comedy.
The script, while far from perfect, is surprisingly clever — even heartfelt at times. Writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar do a good job of not only giving all the characters moments to shine and grow, but plenty of cultural references to remind the audience exactly where and when this tale is set.
The movie is not without its pitfalls, however. With all its glitter, the script does tend to reach, as some of the gags are fairly tired and obvious. While I am far from being a technological historian, I am fairly sure that automobiles and machine guns were NOT readily available in the 1880s.
Also, the movie fails to deliver anything interesting in terms of villainy, as Chan and Wilson’s principal nemesis could have been lifted directly out of any past James Bond flick.
Played by Adian Gillen, the power hungry Lord Rathbone sits 10th in line for succession to the throne, and puts forward the standard issue plan to cut in line. While Gillen proves to be an amazing swordsman in a very unique action sequence atop Big Ben, one keeps expecting him to burst into maniacal laughter. Until he does that is.
Truly, these are all minor issues, ones that should not keep you from watching this film. However, as I am criticizing the movie, I find myself feeling obliged to complain about SOMETHING.
“Shanghai Knights” excels in what most sequels set out to do, but typically fail to accomplish — surpass the original. Simply put, “Shanghai Knights” is bigger, funnier, and all around better than its predecessor.