Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson team up again—and follow the same formula—for “Shanghai Knights.”
Jackie Chan moved to the U.S. market in the late ’90s. In his early career, he made some of the greatest action pictures in Hong Kong cinema. His fighting style and stunt work were breathtaking.
But now he makes buddy pictures. He has teamed with Chris Tucker to make the “Rush Hour” series, which has been successful. And he has teamed with Owen Wilson for the “Shanghai” series. The first film was “Shanghai Noon,” a Western that used modern idiom and vernacular for dialogue. The result: comedy.
Chan and Wilson team up again—and follow the same formula—for “Shanghai Knights.” The movie concerns the theft of China’s imperial seal. The thief is a member of England’s royal family who steals the seal in order to help a member of China’s royal family to ascend the throne. The Chinese ascendant is to return the favor by killing all nine of those who stand between the British royal and the throne of England.
But none of this is important.
What is important is the interplay between Chan and Wilson, for chemistry makes a buddy picture work. Sparks must fly when the buddies get together. Chan plays straight man to Wilson’s roguish scallywag. Chan is the put-upon character who works hard to get Wilson—who walks around bad-mouthing the British—out of trouble. The movie works because Chan and Wilson energize each other.
It also works because of the fight scenes (going to see a Jackie Chan movie means there must be fight scenes). Here, the scenes are not so much fights as they are like those dance sequences in Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies. One scene pays homage to Gene Kelly when Jackie fights a gang from the London streets with an umbrella, complete with music from “Singing in the Rain.” Jackie fights as playfully as Gene Kelly dances in the rainy streets of Hollywood.
Much of the story is boilerplate—totally predictable. But there is magic in the movie that makes it an enjoyable experience. There is a love story, not to mention lots of people from Victorian London that we all know. It’s fun to see Jackie and Owen work their way through the story to get to the end, and see the characters from history they bump into.
Is this a laudable movie for film awards? No! But not all movies are made to win golden statues. Not all movies try to advance the nobility of human suffering or showcase the majesty of the human spirit.
This movie is meant only to entertain us. It owes much to the road pictures of Hope and Crosby, and on that level it succeeds. “Shanghai Knights” is fun, and that’s all it tries to be.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence and sexual content
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Alfred Gough and Miles Millar
Cast: Chon Wang: Jackie Chan; Roy O’Bannon: Owen Wilson; Chon Lin: Fann Wong; Charlie: Aaron Johnson; Artie Doyle: Thomas Fisher; Rathbone: Aidan Gillen; Wu Chan: Donnie Yen; Jack the Ripper: Oliver Cotton.