For his first re-view for 10YA, Jolon Buchbinder revisits Jackie Chan’s very long career and makes mention of the 10YA editor’s favorite movie theatre of all time.
Jackie Chan movies are a special breed. People don’t go to them for the story but for the action and the fighting scenes. Sure, the best ones do have a good story with a good script, but even the bad stories are made better by the fight scenes and Chan’s charm and likeability. It was an added bonus that Chan did his own stunts and you knew it was him. If you could look past the sometimes clunky script and if you are accustomed to this type of movie, Chan’s films are a delight. First, though a little history.
I grew up watching Chan films. Every Thursday night at the UC Theater in Berkeley was Festival Hong Kong, where they showed Everything from Jackie Chan, Jet Li and John Woo films. This was before Chan made it big in the U.S. and so we watched Police Story, Project A, and Meals on Wheels. It took a long time for Chan to break out in the U.S. market, but he finally did in 1995 with Rumble in the Bronx. His first “American” film was Rush Hour (not counting a few disasters in the early 1980s) which made a ton of money and made Chan a huge star. Then came Shanghai Noon.
I always liked Shanghai Noon more than Rush Hour. To me, Rush Hour felt like a Chris Tucker movie with Jackie Chan rather than a Jackie Chan film. This is not necessarily a bad thing as I do love that film, butShanghai Noon felt more like a Chan film. However, when I first saw Shanghai Knights in theaters I was not really taken with it as much as Rush Hour 2. Upon re-watching it, I realized that I was completely wrong.Shanghai Knights is the perfect blend of comedy and action and even comedy with action. The fight scenes have a real sense of fun that was missing in Rush Hour. Chan’s ability to use his environment within the fight is expertly used, especially in a scene involving a street market.
The plot is simple (Jackie’s plots are rarely complicated) and easy to follow. Chon Wang’s father is murdered by a British Diplomat who goes back to London and plans to blow up the royal family and seize the throne. Wang and Roy O’Bannon travel to London to stop him. Rush Hour 2 got bogged down by the overly complicated and sometimes silly plot. The acting here is great all around with Aidan Gillen (of The Wire and Game of Thrones fame) giving an especially deviant performance as the villain. The supporting characters are a lot of fun including Tom Fisher and Aaron Johnson who turn out to be Arthur Conan Doyle and Charlie Chaplin respectively.
The biggest problem Chan always had with American directors was they simply didn’t know how to direct his action scenes. Normally, a director would use lots of cuts to hide the special effects or the stunt double. This is what happened to Chan the first time he tried to do an American film in the 1980s. If you watch his Chinese films, the camera rarely moves during the fight scenes and they use long takes to show off the skills of the fighters. In this movie, new director David Dobkin doesn’t allow the camera to overshadow Chan and just lets him do his thing which is what the audience really wants.
My only real complaint is the lack of a show stopping stunt. Usually Chan’s movies have one really big stunt that makes the audience gasp in horror and amazement. Supercop had the helicopter scene, Rumble in the Bronx had the roof jump, and Who Am I? had the building slide (dubbed by the producers as the world’s most dangerous stunt). Part of the problem is American Studios are not going to let their big star tackle a huge death defying stunt. Chan has complained about this in interviews saying that American films are much more focused on safety (which he does not think is a bad thing). Although this film lacks that giant stunt but it more than makes up for it with the long fight scenes which flow effortlessly from one stunt to the next.
Another thing the film gets right is the sidekick. Owen Wilson and Jackie have great chemistry together and you can tell they are having a great time filming the movie. Wilson is not nearly as irritating as Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films. Wilson is also a much more useful sidekick as he gets involved in some of the fights. The film does not rely on racial humor as much as the Rush Hour films, which grows tiresome about halfway through the first one (and which they milked for parts 2 and 3).
Overall, Shanghai Knights is probably my favorite English language film of Chan’s. Everything combines perfectly into a fantastic action comedy. Since we know that Chan’s Chinese films are on the whole much stronger than his American films I would rank this among his weaker Chinese films. It is much better than films like The Tuxedo, The Medallion and The Spy Next Door. I would much rather see a 3rd Shanghai film than a 4th Rush Hour film that is rumored. I highly recommend taking the time to watch this one along with the first one.