Despite the best stateside fights from Chan since 1998’s Rush Hour (probably because he choreographed these himself), Shanghai Knights is profoundly stale, offering just as few thrills, surprises or laughs as its 2000 predecessor, Shanghai Noon.
The film opens with the murder of the father of Chon Wang (Chan) in China and the theft of the country’s imperial seal. Receiving word of his father’s death stateside, Wang travels to New York to find old sidekick Roy (Wilson) and enlist him to travel to London (where he has tracked his father’s murderer) and retrieve the seal. Thrown into the mix are Wang’s sister Lin (Fann Wong), a petulant British villain who’s a weird mix of Alec Baldwin and Alan Cumming and a precocious pickpocket.
Instead of penning a funny action film, screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have instead created a Mad-Lib filled with wink-wink instances where the two main characters run into historical bigwigs. Jack the Ripper, Charlie Chaplin, “Artie” Doyle. You can’t stop laughing, can you? And anachronisms such as the Who on the soundtrack, Chan lifting a Telly Savalas catch-phrase and co-star Owen Wilson referencing The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” don’t work either.
Still, good Wilson and good Chan are worth the tiniest bit even in a movie that’s otherwise a mess. Even if they feel improvised on the spot, Wilson has at least five laugh-out-loud funny lines (such as his reference to England as a “jerkwater country” and Britons as “tea-drinking psychos”). And Chan’s comic fights are filmed with the proper fluidity and space to let him do his thing (even if their homages to silent films are pounded into our head with old-time music on the soundtrack).
Shanghai Knights squanders those moments, though, in its finale, which is all set-up and no payoff. Basically, Wilson uses the word “sissy” a lot and there’s the prerequisite Chan-and-partner fall from a high place that is getting as old as Chan himself. It’s sad to say, but maybe the jumpin’ Jackie of the past has left and gone away.