Shanghai Knights is really just a thinly veiled plot device to a) show more of Jackie Chan‘s amazing abilities; b) show the chemistry between Chan and Owen Wilson and c) show Chan in yet another fish-out-of-water situation. As a sequel with all the “right stuff” already in place Knights apparently doesn’t need an intriguing story. Starting where Shanghai Noon left off Chon Wang (Chan) is living large in 1800s American Wild West. Yet when Chon learns his estranged father the Keeper of the Imperial Seal has been murdered in China’s Forbidden City and the seal stolen he immediately vows revenge. To get to the killers who have escaped to London Chon reluctantly reteams with his old partner the incompetent Roy O’Bannon (Wilson). Once in England they run into Chon’s sister Lin (Fann Wong) who has had the same vengeful idea as her brother (and has the same skills). Much to Chon’s chagrin Roy is quickly smitten with the beautiful Lin who has uncovered a plot to kill Queen Victoria and the royal family but has trouble convincing the authorities since the instigator of the evil plan is Lord Rathbone (Aidan Gillen) seventh in line to the throne (hence why he wants them killed off). Not good. With the help of a kindly Scotland Yard Inspector and a 10-year-old street urchin Chon kicks Britain in the pants as he attempts to avenge his father’s death–and keep the romance-minded Roy away from his sister.
The Chan/Wilson comic duo works well once again. Chan‘s easygoing unassuming style matches well with Wilson‘s smarminess. Wilson seems to have become one of those actors-for-hire saying yes to just about anything offered to him (why else would he have done I Spy?) ; still we know he has the goods when he turns in hysterical performances in quirk-fests such as The Royal Tenenbaums. There definitely is something special to his pairing with Chan who fits into Hollywood’s mainstream like a glove. The only way to aptly describe his abilities is to compare him to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly who could dance with anything from a woman to a hat rack and make it look so smooth. Granted Chan is getting a little long in the tooth (rumor has it he didn’t perform all the stunts) but the combination of martial arts and Chinese acrobatics he displays is stupefying. Wong handles herself very well getting in a few swift mean kicks of her own. As well baddies Gillen and real-life martial arts master Donnie Yen who plays a Chinese rebel aligning himself with Rathbone snarl with the best of them. It is intriguing to see Yen and Chan go at it in their very different yet mesmerizing styles.
Doing a sequel to Shanghai Noon was a very smart move. Why not pair up these two likable heroes again throw them in a different adventure and watch the sparks fly? It’s the kind of repeat performance that doesn’t require much attention to detail and director David Dobkin (Clay Pigeons) shouldn’t feel the need to top Knights‘ predecessor. Each action sequence is spectacular and the interim goofiness sustains the time when Chan can do his stuff again. Still it would be nice to have at least some semblance of glue to hold the movie together. It’s all over the place trying to pack in as much fighting as possible together with funny awkward moments with Chon and Roy as well as playing with the history of London in the 1800s. For example the kindly Scotland Yard detective who helps them is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before he starts writing his Sherlock Holmes series (Roy comes up with the pseudonym) and the street urchin so impressed with Chon’s moves is a young Charlie Chaplin. Ah very clever. At least Lin gets to kick Jack the Ripper’s butt. Oh who are we kidding? The film’s fun and it’s going to make big bucks. Who cares about a story?