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Shanghai Knights By Matt Singer
Choosing between Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon was something of a personal preference. The choice between Rush Hour 2 and Shanghai Knights is purely academic; while the former ran light on gags with only adequate martial arts, Knights delivers on its promise of comedy and kung fu. It may be obvious at this point, but if you enjoy Jackie Chan and enjoyed the first film, youíll enjoy the second. I saw the film with someone who had not seen the first and was a casual Chan fan at best, and she still walked out saying she liked it more than she expected to.
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Chan, now nearly 50 years old, recently admitted that he has begun to use stunt doubles for some of his more difficult on-screen antics. It sort of shatters one of those illusions that meant so much to me as a fifteen-year-old, though now Iím surprised how little I care. To be honest, if Chan uses a stunt double at any point in Knights, I didnít spot it, and Chan is still jumping, flipping, kicking, in almost every scene. The use or props and creative locations is as good as ever, incorporating homages to Gene Kelly and Harold Lloyd amongst others. If anything, the age visible in his face suits him here when he learns his father has been murdered and his head sinks in a heartbreaking moment. Often Chanís acting does not receive the credit it deserves simply because he does not speak English well. Fans of his Hong Kong films know better.
Chanís Chon Wang has become a sheriff in America since Noon, but has to abandon his post to find his fatherís killer. The trail leads to England, and to get to England, Chon needs to get some money from his old pal Roy OíBannon (Owen Wilson). From the moment Wilson appears on the screen, the fun begins, as the crooked-nosed actor-writer turns on the weird charm and the Chon starts the real kung fu theatrics, starting with a great sequence featuring some Keystone Cop-resembling police officers.
Wilson sets a great tone for Chanís movies. Even with imminent death all around, Wilsonís OíBannon is always ready with a joke or a pass at a pretty girl, a constant reminder that we should laugh and not recoil when Chan beats someone up with an umbrella or a revolving door. I have no idea how much of Wilsonís dialogue is his own invention and how much is from the script by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (who wrote the original and created the show Smallville) but the combination is a successful one.
Knights up-for-any-gag supporting cast includes the fetching Fann Wong as Chonís vengeful sister Lin (who gets a cute romantic subplot with Roy), Aiden Gillen as the fiendish Lord Rathbone (in this case moused hair is equated with villainy), and Donnie Yen, a great contemporary of Chanís, as the almost-as-fiendish-but-a-little-less-fiendish Wu Yip, who unfortunately only gets one brief battle with his more famous costar.
Noon, which was not a box office hit but made tons on home video (It outsold Disneyís Tarzan), didnít need a sequel, so if youíre going to hold that against it, donít bother. But for what it is, Shanghai Knights is rock solid - entertaining and exciting with just the right amount of silliness. Noon was one of the only good westerns in recent memory, and I must admit itís a shame the new film is more of a jab at the British - who as easy targets are second only to the poor Canadians - than prospectors and guys with the world ďWildĒ in their name. But these sequels are not easy things and most of them are just plain bad. (Men In Black II anyone?) So when it works, I should probably just count my blessings that two more of my favorite movie characters havenít been defiled.