Shanghi Knights

December, 2003, Comedy

Shanghai Knights

You don't have to be a kid to like Jackie Chan movies, but it certainly helps to park your sophisticated, adult sensibilities at the theater door if you really want to appreciate this contemporary answer to Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. He's appeared in scores of movies which fall into the derisive category called "kung fu", named for the Hong Kong action flicks that found their way to the U. S. when Bruce Lee was able to convince American audiences that its particular brand of ersatz violence was worth the price of a theater ticket. Chan's genius has been to keep the martial arts action, but embed it in scenes that concentrate on the choreography of the combatants, rather than the mayhem itself. In doing so, Chan has almost single-handedly elevated this genre into one worthy of both critical study and simple, if somewhat guilty, enjoyment. 

He's also found an excellent way to reach larger audiences through the vehicle of the "buddy" movie, in which he teams with someone who serves as a foil to both his limited English language skills and remarkable athletic abilities. He's currently appearing in two such series; the Rush Hour cycle, (there partnered with the obnoxious Chris Tucker) and a second which lampoons the Western genre. In it, Chan partners with sidekick Owen Wilson, who plays a 19th century slacker-dude cowboy not half as clever as he thinks he is. This combination began last year with Shanghai Noon, which turned out to be a surprisingly clever--and financially successful--piece of breezy fun. To absolutely no one's surprise, Chan and Wilson have decided to see how many beads they can thread on this string, and the present outing, while not as loosely charming as the first, still manages to convey the stars chemistry and the remarkable athleticism that has become Chan's trademark.

The plot, (such as it is) has Chan and Owen in Victorian London this time out, pursuing the murderer of Chan's father. Chan's lovely younger sister is introduced here, and of course Owen must fall madly, if irrationally, in love in love with her. The nonsensical plot carries enough references to personages of prominence in fin de sicle England to keep adults amused with the dialogue while the kids marvel at Chan's gymnastic set pieces, two of which, (staged in a New York hotel lobby and a London street market respectively) are especially clever and physically dazzling. Owen gets dangerously cute with his impersonation of a lady killer who's a legend in his own mind, and some of the humor isn't as hip as the cast plays it, nor as carelessly charming as its Old West predecessors in the original--but on a rainy night when you've nothing to do and feel like regressing to your early teens, this one might tempt you to break out the microwave popcorn.

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