There are no surprises in “Shanghai Knights,” but that’s only because it delivers exactly what we came to see: a cheerfully anachronistic buddy/action/comedy movie starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Every few minutes it throws in either a classic pop standard, an impossibly agile fight scene, some offbeat surfer cowboy comments, some fish out of water humor, or some combination of all of the above. In other words, it’s everything that made their last movie, “Shanghai Noon” a hit, except that it’s set in London.
Chan and Wilson reprise their roles as serious Chinese Imperial Guard turned sheriff Chon Wang (say it out loud) and amiable bandit turned waiter/giglo Roy O’Bannon. In case anyone bothered to remember the details of the last film, the princess and the treasure the heroes won at the happy end are swiftly dispatched and Roy and Chon are off to London to avenge the murder of Chon’s father and retrieve the great seal that has been stolen from the emperor of China. They arrive just as the celebration of Queen Victoria’s 50 years on the throne is about to begin. Chon’s sister Lin (Fann Wong) is in jail for attempting to kill Rathbone (Aiden Gillen),the Queen’s favorite cousin. Our heroes have to get Lin out of jail, get back the seal, and stop the plots to kill off the nine people between Rathbone and the crown and usurp the emperor of China.
This leaves plenty of time for comedy in encounters with policemen, prostitutes, Jack the Ripper, a street urchin/pickpocket, and a newfangled contraption called the automobile that has a run-in (literally) with an old-fangled contraption called Stonehenge.
The action scenes are ably staged, especially a marvelous battle with Keystone Cops-style policemen in a revolving door, a fight in a fruit market, and some masterful acrobatics with that most British of props, the umbrella. The comedy is more uneven, though Wilson’s way with a line is always deliciously offbeat. Newcomer (to the US) Wong has a dazzling smile and a lethal kick, always a good combination to have on hand.
Parents should know that the movie has some raunchy humor, including scenes in brothels. There is a nude pillow fight (nothing shown) and there are some brief sexual situations. Roy, who happily makes a living having sex with women for money at the beginning of the film, turns down an offer to have sex when he falls in love with Lin, even though he does not know how she feels about him. Characters smoke and drink with a lot of enjoyment. They also cheat, lie, and steal without any remorse. As with all Chan movies, there is a lot of action violence and peril, but only the bad guys get seriously hurt.
Families who see this movie should talk about the puzzle box Wang’s father sent him, and why it was important to show patience before receiving the message. Why was that particular message so important to him? They may want to find out more about Charlie Chaplin, Jack the Ripper, Queen Victoria, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous creations, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour. They should be sure to watch some of Chan’s earlier Hong Kong movies like Legend of the Drunken Master which show him at his prime. And they should see some of the movies that this one pays sly tribute to, from Singin’ in the Rain to Safety Last.