After the false step in Jackie Chan's illustrious career of the woeful The Tuxedo (2002) – in which the star stooped to turn himself into a digital special effect – Shanghai Knights registers as something of a comeback.
Like much of Chan's work since the '90s, it is an attempt to tailor the formats of Hong Kong popular cinema in order to win the American market. And it is a pretty good attempt.
Shanghai Knights mixes in bits from many genres and cultures – American Western, British crime thriller, Chinese martial arts fantasy. Chan and his collaborators like to signal such appropriations with an extravagant use of historic figures – Jack the Ripper, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charlie Chaplin all figure in the plot.
At the beginning of this inventive sequel to the enjoyable Shanghai Noon (2000), Chon (Chan) is a sheriff in the Old West, and his former sidekick Roy (Owen Wilson) is a dissolute playboy. They team up and relocate to London in order to avenge the death of Chon's father. The rapport between the men is spiced up with the addition of Chon's feisty sister, Lin (Fann Wong).
The authentic Hong Kong touch is in the film's sincerity of tone. Chon's anguish over never having reconciled with his father is well conveyed, and his revenge-drive leads to a genuinely dramatic climax set in a clock tower.
Since this sequel is less flippant than the original, there is less latitude for Wilson to shine, but he nonetheless gets some great lines and double-takes.
Given his age (49) and the extent of the punishment to which he has subjected his body, one wonders how capable Chan is of delivering the physical stunts and thrills that have so delighted his fans. Here he chooses a happy route, emphasising comic and poetic ballet over bone-crunching action.
The set-pieces in Shanghai Knights are splendid, involving props including market stalls, a book case and (in one especially lovely scene) an open umbrella which turns Chan into the fleeting reincarnation of Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain (1953).
MORE Dobkin: Clay Pigeons
© Adrian Martin April 2003