WesternJackie ChanOwen WilsonAidan Gillen
Shanghai Knights
Medium: film
Year: 2003
Director: David Dobkin
Writer: Miles Millar, Alfred Gough
Keywords: Shanghai Noon, Western, Jack the Ripper, historical
Language: English, Mandarin [but even less than last time]
Country: USA, Hong Kong
Actor: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Fann Wong, Aaron Johnson, Aidan Gillen, Tom Fisher, Donnie Yen, Oliver Cotton, Kim Chan, Gemma Jones
Format: 114 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0300471/
Website category: Other
Review date: 16 May 2012
It's the sequel to Shanghai Noon, the 2000 "Jackie Chan in the Wild West" action comedy, co-starring Owen Wilson. That film I liked. This one's fun too, but you'll want to watch out for the horseshit.
The good stuff would be Chan and Wilson, both of whom are excellent. Chan is simply a delight. He's charming and lovable, while his action scenes are things of joy and beauty. They're like visually witty, high-octane ballet. Even if you're not in general a fan of fight scenes, there's something wonderful about battles here like the one in Madame Tussauds or the one with precious antiques. There's an early sequence that's basically Jackie Chan vs. the Keystone Kops, which is an idea so perfect that it'll make you clap your hands and believe in fairies. There's been no one else like Chan since the talkies came in.
This film is clearly at its best when it's being kinetic. However the characters are great too. Wilson and Chan are very funny indeed, both individually and as a pair. Wilson continues to be entertainingly dodgy and yet endearingly laid-back and forgiving, while Chan's character is hilariously bad at not being striaghtforward and honest. Chan is carrying more emotional weight in this one, with Wilson concentrating more on being funny. I laughed at his reaction to being on the point of plunging to his death, for instance. "Hey, I can see our hotel from here."
I was really impressed with Wilson, actually. He's great even with bad material, e.g. the corny story beat where he's pissed off at Chan because the script is pulling stuff out of its arse.
Hmm. I do believe I'm about to start nitpicking. Firstly, a warning. If I hadn't been British, most of this would have gone over my head. You see, instead of being set in the Wild West like the first film, Chan and Wilson have gone to London in 1887 and so are running around the land of Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens, cobbled streets and clip-cloppy horses' hooves. If you're unfamiliar with London and especially what it was like in the 19th century, then you're a lucky ducky and can watch this movie (nearly) in safety! It's massively famous in Pakistan, for instance, dubbed into Punjabi and called "Butt and Bhatti". This redub was Pakistan's most voted-for television piece in the year of its release and many millions of copies of this version have since circulated worldwide.
However my problems with it included:
1. To me, it feels phony. This is obviously a subjective judgement on which most people seem to have disagreed, but I felt it right from the beginning with some fake-looking snow. Chan's childhood photo with his dad looks fake too. The Londoners are cartoon characters with cartoon accents. The whores aren't Victorian whores. Admittedly sometimes the film is convincing, with the high-society world in particular looking superb, but I didn't buy any scenes set on the streets.
2. Brandon Merrill has been erased from the franchise, despite the small matter of a marriage certificate. We're not supposed to care about the pesky Red Indian. Well, bollocks to that. Lucy Liu's absence on the other hand is explained well and I had no problem with that.
3. The wilfully stupid history is distracting. We meet Charlie Chaplin, despite the fact that he wouldn't be born for another two years. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle does a job he never did and gets knighted fifteen years early. Alongside him, two non-Britons (Chan and Wilson) also get knighted, in a scene that makes knighthood look like the equivalent of a gold star at primary school. Queen Victoria isn't wheelchair-bound. Jack the Ripper is a famous "serial killer" (sic) a year before his killings began and he attacks Fann Wong even though she's not a prostitute. Hollywood is apparently a place to make your fortune in the movies, despite the fact that the brothers Lumiere are still seven years away from inventing the moving picture and even after that it would take many years for Hollywood to get into the industry. However my favourite is...
4. Driving out of London in a Renault automobile that wouldn't be invented until World War One, Chan and Wilson crash into Stonehenge. That's 85 miles away. Now in fairness, automobiles did just about exist in 1887, with the first one having been invented in 1885. However it was a tricycle that couldn't exceed 10 mph, suggesting that our heroes presumably drove straight to Stonehenge at top speed for about eight and a half hours, in order to crash into it.
Then we have the stupid plot points.
5. Chan and his sister (Fann Wong) have a desperately private and sensitive conversation with each other in English, despite having used Mandarin with each other in other scenes. This is of course because the script wants Wilson to overhear them and have a Formulaic Character Trauma.
6. Similarly Chan's attitude towards Owen's romance with Wong is either: (a) implacable opposition, or (b) grudging support, with no justification given for the transition. It's merely a story beat that only exists because the scriptwriters are writing in accordance with formula.
7. Wong is a brilliant fighter who could beat Wilson to jelly with her eyes closed. (The actress actually didn't have a martial arts background and did special training, but that's not germane.) However for the finale, a supporting character gets a bullet through his shoulder and Wong immediately says, "I'll look after him; you two go off." There are two problems with this. Firstly, they should have left Wilson instead. Secondly, there was no need to leave anybody! The guy's not going anywhere and I didn't notice anyone getting ready to administer the first aid that might, at a pinch, have justified the line.
8. Another problem with that moment is that when our villain shot him, that supporting character immediately clutched his shoulder and fell down in a Script Immunity To Bullets eye-roller.
Okay, that'll do. By this point I'm nitpicking stuff that I'd have overlooked if I'd been in a better mood, but that's the point. The film got me nitpicking. However I did basically enjoy it, which basically exists as a vehicle for Chan and Wilson's charm and talent. They're excellent. I can also understand why other people liked the film and I can even understand the argument that "it's an action movie, so you're not supposed to think". Nevertheless at times I had a hard job not rolling my eyes.
Other matters... Both the McGuffin and the villains are poor. Donnie Yen is arguably Hong Kong's biggest action star right now, but he hasn't been given much here to get his teeth into. The real villain is Aidan Gillen (Stuart Alan Jones in Queer as Folk), who's clearly a decent actor but couldn't possibly be called big, scary or menacing. He seems little and a bit nerdy.
I liked Gemma Jones as Queen Victoria, though. She's Madam Pomfrey in the Harry Potter films, but I'll always think of her as Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet's mum in Sense and Sensibility.
Overall I enjoyed this, but I wish it weren't so proud of its stupidity. The filmmakers clearly know they're perpetrating idiocies. They just don't care. It's distracting. Nevertheless the comedy is funny, the movie has charm and the lead actors are excellent. Fann Wong is also very attractive, in case you were wondering. It's a sunny exercise in light-hearted goodwill that we're not meant to be taking seriously, but with a bit of weight and emotion in there courtesy of Chan. I'd have watched a third movie if they'd made it and I'd definitely be up for seeing more of almost anything at all from either Chan or Wilson. I just think it's a shame that what I'd expected to be a plus point (the Victorian London setting) was actually for me a minus.