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IN SHORT: A flat out enjoyable buy the Godzilla sized popcorn dateflick. [Rated PG-13 for action violence and sexual content. 107 minutes]
It is the rare sequel which outshines, outrocks and in every way surpasses the original . . . and Shanghai Knights, successor to Shanghai Noon isn't one of 'em. It is, as repeated again and again by members of our screening on the way out of the theater, a stupid movie. That's stupid with a small "s," a good thing, as opposed to Stupid with a capital "s" which is not a good thing. Is Shanghai Knights amusing? Yes. Is it filled with enough Jackie Chan action to keep the average, repeat average, fan happy. Yep. is it the worthy successor to Noon and predecessor of an inevitable third film called, perhaps, Shanghai Brunch? Not at ten bucks a pop. But that decision is, ultimately, in your ticket buying hands.
To be honest, this particular installment is the best example we can put forward of a great popcorn movie. Usually, our describing a film as a "popcorn movie" is a diss, meaning 'yeah, it's OK to spend your money to take a date or such. It's not great but it's time better spent than, say, waiting for the next total eclipse of the sun'. In this particular case, Chan choreographs stunts even more unique than anything he's done in the past -- he'll battle half a dozen men while confined to a revolving door, for example -- and Owen Wilson shoots his mouth off like a man out of time. Shanghai Knights is, simply, as stupid as it is fun. That's both our assessment and that of the folk walking out of our screening.
If you haven't seen Shanghai Noon, odds are you'll be lost for a good half hour or more. If you don't care about a character's background history, no problem. We've always felt that you shouldn't have to see one movie to be able to follow another, so Shanghai Knights loses a buck in the rating for that. Meanwhile, back in China . . .
The Keeper of the Imperial Seal (Kim S. Chan) is murdered by a mysterious Occidental and his hired Boxer help. His last order to his daughter Chon Lin (Fann Wong) is to deliver a mysterious box to her disavowed brother, now the sheriff of Carson City, Nevada. Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) is already semi-famous in his own lifetime, immortalized in the pages of Sage McAllister's pulp novel Roy O'Bannon vs. The Mummy. Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson), Wang's mostly unwanted partner, is living the high life in New York City, wining and dining the daughter's of New York's most important people. When the pair of heroes are reacquainted, it is because the now ex-sheriff needs his share of the last movie's gold to get him to London, where Lin is in deep trouble.
Roy, of course, has blown the wad on a bad investment in something called a "zeppelin," so the pair stow away on a ship bound for Britain and we're off to the races. This odd couple's first encounter with the Brits isn't a good one. Roy's watch is swiped by an impudent orphan named Charlie (Aaron Johnson). Still. it doesn't take long for the Duke -- you do remember that Chon Wang is pronounced John Wayne, don't you?? -- to find his sister, and that means trouble. Why? Not because she's come up on the bad side of Scotland Yard Inspector Doyle (Thomas Fischer). Oh, no. It's because partner Roy takes one look at Wang's little sister and, well, you know.
The bad guy in this epic is Lord Nelson Rathbone (Aidan Gillen), tenth in line to the British Throne. Next in line, actually, if his plans to utilize a remarkable piece of technology called the machine gun, are successful. Rathbone lives on the cutting edge of technology, which is one of the benefits of being stinking rich. Not only is he one of the first Lords on his block to own a Gatling, he's also got a brand spanking new automobile in the stables, of a type which won't be available, let alone seen by the general public, until at least 1904.
We're in 1887, by the way, six years past the events in Shanghai Noon. No matter. Ferdinand Zeppelin won't be ready to fly his machine until the turn of the century either so Roy's money was lost fair and square. Shanghai Knights isn't a predictable brother must rescue sister (or man must rescue newfound love) movie, either. Lin can kick butt alongside the best of 'em'; the best of 'em' being her older brother, of course.
Rathbone's cohort in crime is Wu Chan (Donnie Yen), illegitimate brother of the Chinese Emperor who plans to seize control of the Empire once he gets possession of the Imperial Seal, which Rathbone seized early in the film and has since lost to ... not Roy; not Wang and certainly not Lin. That leaves the brat Charlie, who is only out for himself. Desperately needing to find Charlie is Rathbone, doer of despicable things who does those despicable things to try to learn Charlie's whereabouts. The good guys have not the slightest idea where he is. Ultimately, one bad guy goes after Wang. The other goes after the Queen and the ultimate battle, Chan versus Rathbone, is not as spectacular or vicious as its predecessor, though its resolution is a very cool visual effect.
Even more important than saving the Empire(s) are the jokes that series creators/ writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (also creators of the most excellent Smallville teevee hour) have buried in their script. As dumb as the decisions made by the bad guys are, none are as dumb as the secret identities Roy and Wang take to infiltrate Rathbone's impressive estate, halfway through the film. Ultimately, it will all pay off in great inside jokes, which is why we're doing our best not to provide any more information than necessary. The jokes and Chan's pained reactions to every dumb thing Roy does are worth the price of rental. For a couple of buck more, you can bring a date, enjoy the dumbness and then enjoy everything that follows if you now what I mean and I know that you do. Dumb is fun and fun leads to something we know other people are enjoying doing, a lot.
We're not doing any of that. We've got to sit through another Academy screening of The Hours. Lucky us <sob>
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Shanghai Knights, he would have paid . . .
If we were to put our minds to it, we'd guess that Shanghai Brunch features Rabbi "John Wayne" and sidekick, bareknuckles prize fighter "Rascally" Roy O'Bannon ("I never met a man I wouldn't run away from") reunited to save New York City from destruction by the very first atomic bomb. It could happen . . .
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