Shanghai Knights (January 23/03)
Though Shanghai Noon wasn't exactly a huge hit (it managed to make a modest amount of money, despite opening against Mission: Impossible II), a sequel was nonetheless commissioned - but, after the tidy way everything was wrapped up in the original, the screenwriters (Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the same team that wrote the first one) were surely faced with the problem of how to continue the storyline. Well, they didn't so much as continue it as they expanded it, which will likely please fans of the original.
As the film opens, John Wayne (Jackie Chan) is presiding over a small Western town as its Sheriff, but soon finds himself drawn back into action after he receives word that his father has been murdered. Before heading to London to solve the crime, he stops in New York to hook up with his old buddy Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson). After an obligatory fight sequence, the two begin their journey to the United Kingdom - where they get into another fight almost immediately after arriving. Their search leads them to a crooked member of the Royal Family named Rathbone (Aidan Gillen), who - despite being far down the line in terms of succeeding the Queen - has designs on the throne.
Like the first film, Shanghai Knights relies on the chemistry between Chan and Wilson - the former often relegated to playing straight man to the latter - to propel the story forward. The plot is secondary here; the film uses it as a way of getting the two characters from point A to point B, while throwing in a fight sequence every 15 minutes or so. And even though that tends to be the formula for every Jackie Chan movie nowadays, it seems particularly noticeable here. The fighting portions fare quite poorly, as it seems like they've just been dropped into the screenplay at random points. Unlike, say, Police Story (still Chan's best film), the action sequences in Shanghai Knights never feel as though they really belong within the story. Chan undoubtedly believes his audience expects a certain amount of acrobatic martial arts in his movies, and has included them here for that very reason. To be fair, there's no denying that Chan is still amazing at this kind of stuff (and even Wilson gets the chance to show off a little bit), which does provide these sequences with a good amount of energy.
The most bizarre aspect of Shanghai Knights isn't anything that's up on screen, but rather the man who sits behind the camera. Director David Dobkin has only one other film to his name, an odd little thriller called Clay Pigeons. How he managed to go from that small independent film to this big-budget extravaganza is almost more compelling than anything that's contained within Shanghai Knights. Still, Dobkin proves to be an effective choice for the helm of this sequel (Tom Dey, the man responsible for the original, was presumably too busy with the terrible Eddie Murphy/Robert DeNiro flick, Showtime), though virtually any director would've been fine here. It's an easy-to-follow formula (insert Wilson wisecrack here, follow with Chan fight sequence, etc) that doesn't exactly allow for a lot of creativity. But Dobkin does a decent job in keeping the chaos in order, and even gets the chance to insert his own sense of style every now and then.
What it really comes down to is this: If you enjoyed Shanghai Noon, you'll surely get a kick out of Shanghai Knights. And as far as mindless entertainment goes, you really could do a lot worse.