(Review by Katharine Schroeder)
Thanks to a snowstorm in the Northeastern United States, I was able to see Shanghai Knights in a large state-of-the-art movie theater that was nearly empty. Although there is something to be said for watching with a crowd of other moviegoers, I was pleased to sit back and watch with just 4 other people in the theater.
Shanghai Knights is a splendid, nearly perfect movie. From the cleverly choreographed action sequences to the lightning fast verbal sparring, this film delivers from the first frame until the last (and beyond - don't leave before the outtakes roll).
There is no denying the chemistry between Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. With each bringing his own unique talents to the team - Jackie with his legendary fight choreography and expressive face and Owen with his deadpan delivery of cleverly written (and improvised) dialogue - the result is magic. The introduction of Fann Wong adds depth to the character of Chon Wang by allowing the audience a peek into what makes him tick. His sense of duty to avenge his father's death and his devotion to his sister give the audience more knowledge of who Chon Wang really is.
True to character, Roy O'Bannon continues to be a gambling skirt-chaser with a heart of gold. It's nearly impossible not to like the guy. His droll observations on all things British are the source of many a chuckle in Shanghai Knights. Jackie's Chon Wang has loosened up for this sequel and manages to convey a sense that he has been released from the psychological stronghold that was his life in Forbidden City.
The action in this movie is both clever and jaw-dropping. Although there are no big stunts besides the Union Jack flag stunt, the more compact scenes involving revolving doors, umbrellas, library ladders, and Chinese vases are no less awe inspiring. Jackie's skills are shown off in many and varied ways and he is still looking very very good.
Aaron Johnson, perfectly cast as the young Charlie Chaplin, plays well off both Jackie and Owen. Donnie Yen (Wu Chan), Aidan Gillen (Rathbone), and Tom Fisher (Det. Artie Doyle) all do a terrific job in adding to the playful, almost comic-book feel of certain parts of the movie. The "elimination of the royals" plot line was somewhat farfetched, but it worked because the audience was never asked to take the movie all that seriously.
Shanghai Knights is a clever, beautiful, action-packed film that will appeal to a wide audience. Jackie's homages to Gene Kelly, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and his nods to some of his own Hong Kong kung fu classics make for a thoroughly enjoyable movie experience.