Shanghai Knights

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By Mark Ramsey | 2003/02/08

Shanghai Knights is distressingly short on knights and long on daze. It follows up the ebullient Shanghai Noon, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise. This new chapter isn’t so pleasant, and that’s no surprise.

Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan are back. Hide your daughters and bolt down any mundane household objects that could conceivably be used as weapons. Enter the fair haired beach dude and the Orient’s favorite comedic fu fighter.

Just don’t expect to be California Roll-ing with laughter. This time out, the fun pantry is absent some key herbs and spices.

shanghai_hanging.jpgBeing a sequel, the “Cousin Oliver Joins the Brady Bunch” rule is in force. That means it’s time to pity a new fu: Jackie Chan’s baby sister. And by “baby” I mean Jackie’s parents apparently took a ninety year break between siblings.

“My sister was born in the year of the pig,” explained Jackie. “I was born in the year of the dodo.”

When a Chinese rebel murders his dad, Jackie and his sister must team up to avenge dad’s honor and recover an elaborately cut piece of glass. This glass not only holds the key to the Chinese Empire, but it’s also a prism in the light: Red is the long wavelength, violet is the short one, and green is the reason why Disney produced this movie!

Fade in on Carson City, Nevada, last seen in every Western ever made. There, Jackie is sheriff and founder of Jackie Chan Films Limited Productions, where “Limited” represents his facility with the English language.

I don’t know what Jackie is doing, but I don’t think it can be called “fighting,” exactly. Mostly, he’s athletically removing the coats of his foes. He’s less martial artist and more Marshall Coat-Checker.

Says Jackie: “We kept adding more fights to each scene, each one more difficult than the next.” Well, the expression is “more difficult than the LAST,” Jackie, but whatever.

Everyday items become tools of artfully choreographed battle boogie-woogie in Jackie’s hands: He sticks cops in a revolving door, he duels with an umbrella, he wrestles with a ladder. Jackie gets more props than God at the Grammy’s! Lots of furious fist- and foot-play but, like the audience, nobody ever gets hurt, only bewildered.

This is one of those movies where people turn their heads and you hear a “swoosh”! That sound effect reportedly originated with a head-turn by actor Ben Kingsley. “In a stiff breeze,” explained Owen Wilson, “Ben’s nose could win the America’s Cup.”

shanghai_rock.jpg

Our heroes journey to London, where they visit every conceivable tourist attraction and encounter every notable historic personage living thereabouts and thenabouts. From Arthur Conan Doyle to Jack the Ripper to a street urchin, a pre-teen Charlie Chaplin, who’s more scamp than tramp.

Look out! There’s a newfangled weapon on site, a “machine gun.” Turns out it might as well be lofting whiffle-balls after it rattles off a zillion rounds at point-blank range without a single hit! Yes, this movie wears its PG-13-ness like a badge of group consensus and focus group-approved honor.

Only in the outtakes at the end does the pre-fab formula give way and things really spring to life. When will somebody really get wise and keep the outtakes IN the movie where they can do some good?

In the bad guy’s house there are hidden panels and secret passageways – each leading to scenes plagiarized from better movies you’ve seen a hundred times before. Yikes! Eyes move behind paintings! Did I just walk into a Three Stooges short? Is there a bird living in a suit of armor? Will Owen and Jackie accidentally eat soap and hiccup bubbles?

Nyuk, nyuk, yuck.


Photos Copyright ©2003 Touchstone Pictures

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