Well, Jackie Chan is back as Chinese expatriate Chon Wang, and this time it’s PERSONAL! The Chinese emperor’s bastard son Wu Yip (Donnie Yen) has joined forces with the 10th in line to the British throne Lord Rathbone (Aidan Gillen) to take over the royal seats of power to their respective nations. In the process, Rathbone murders the Chinese keeper of the royal seal, who coincidentally happens to be Wang’s father. With Wang’s hottie sister Lin (Fann Wong) in hot pursuit, Wang leaves behind the American west to join the chase in merry ol’ England. Along the way, Wang picks up his old ne’er-do-well gringo bullshit artist partner, Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson). Much wacky hijinx ensue.
Hey man, they may be in England, but don’t expect
Shakespeare. “Shanghai Knights” only promised a few good fights, a lot of chuckles, and an easy way to kill a couple of hours. In today’s Hollywood that’s hard enough to deliver. Chan and Wilson have an easy chemistry together and director David Dobkin (the excellent Clay Pigeons) knows enough not to get in the way of that or the fight choreography.
HOWEVER, I’ve got a couple of caveats about “Shanghai Knights”. First, Wilson almost seems to be on autopilot much of the time. I don’t know whether it’s his anachronistic delivery or the fact that I can’t really distinguish this performance from the last eight or so films I’ve seen him in. It just doesn’t seem like he was always quite “ON”.
The bigger problem is the criminal under-use of Donnie Yen. While U.S. audiences may not be familiar with him, he was like the #3 martial-arts guy in Hong Kong, after Chan and Jet Li. While Donnie has acted and fought Jet in a few movies, most notably “Once Upon a Time in China Part II”, he’s never fought Chan. He’s also like 9 years younger than Chan and grew up in Boston. You’d expect, at least, for there to be a knockdown drag-out Kung Fu duel between the two at the end. Unfortunately, what we get is just kind of, “eh”. This fight will not go down in the top ten most memorable for either man, and that’s a shame.
Still, if that’s not the expectation your average American audience has going in, I’m sure they’ll have a gay old time. It just could have been so much more.