Our review of Shanghai Noon / Shanghai Knights (Blu-ray), published May 15th, 2013, is also available.
It's east meets west…goes to London!
No ifs, and, or buts about it: if a movie's successful, 98% of the time expect a sequel. No matter what the movie, if it rakes in the dough a second flick is sure to go. Any day now I'm waiting to see the green light for Schindler's List II: Nazis Must Die! and Moulin Rouge Part 2: I'll Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That). In the meantime, movie fans can revisit the adventures of Roy O'Bannon and Chon Wang in the Shanghai Noon follow-up Shanghai Knights. Starring the world's only living and breathing special effect, Jackie Chan, and comic actor Owen Wilson (Anaconda), Shanghai Knights gets dubbed Sir DVD care or Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Since Shanghai Noon, much has happened to our hapless heroes. Chon Wang—or as everyone else calls him, John Wayne—has become a successful sheriff in an old west town. Things are going quite well—until, that is, his father is killed by a mysterious band of bad guys. When Chon gets a telegram from his sister, Lin (Fann Wong), that she has gone to England after their father's murderers, Chon decides to make way for New York City. It's here that he looks up his old sidekick Roy O'Bannon (Wilson). Chon's plan is to collect the money Roy owes him—unfortunately, Roy lost it all in a little business venture (he picked zeppelins because that automobile thing just won't "catch on"). Without a penny to their name, Roy and Chon decide to use whatever means necessary to get to London and find Chon's father's killers. Upon arrival overseas they run into Lin and meet up with a devious Chinese rebel (Donnie Yen) and an heir to the throne of England, the murderous Lord Rathbone (Aiden Gillen, Circle of Friends). As Roy and Chon attempt to avenge Chon's family and collect a sacred seal from China, they find themselves knee-deep in wacky misadventures, dangling from Big Ben, and making history…the Shanghai way!
I'll be up front: I wasn't a big fan of the original Shanghai Noon. It's not that it was a terribly bad movie. It just felt like a retread of every other buddy action comedy around. I guess it didn't help that those Rush Hour movies seemed to grind the genre well into the ground (the first was decent, the second was horrid). So, I decided to skip out on the sequel when it hit theaters last year. to my surprise, Shanghai Knights is a pleasing, humorous popcorn flick that has two elements I greatly enjoy: 1.) Jackie Chan doing his Jackie Chan kung-fu stuff and B.) Owen Wilson's dry, deadpan humor. Why the first movie didn't click is beyond me—but I'm happy to report the sequel made me smile.
You've got to give praise to any movie that features an homage to Harold Lloyd dangling from an enormous clock hand (this time it's Big Ben and Owen Wilson, but who's complaining?). Shanghai Knights is filled with small touches like this. Here is a movie that makes no pretense about what it is. The plot, though really not required, deals with the theft of the great seal of China, Roy falling for Chon's sweet sister, and other such nonsense. In the big scheme of things no one really goes to a movie like this for sharp ideas. We're here for Jackie Chan's lightning quick moves, and we get them in large doses. There is a wonderful moment when Chan, being pummeled by half a dozen bad guys, asks everyone to stop—and they do, momentarily, with just enough time for Chan to dash away with a look on his face that defies description. It's in these details where Shanghai Knights really comes alive. The stunts are all top notch due in part to Chan's expertise and the zestful energy of director David Dobkin (Clay Pigeons and the writer of the Clint Howard classic Ice Cream Man). Fights take place all over the map, including around one of those grand swiveling fireplaces that hold secrets behind their crackling logs.
Jackie Chan is an interesting actor—like action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chan always seems out of his element no matter where he goes. Yet as an audience, we're forgiving of the fact that a Chinese man could never have been a sheriff in the old west back in the early 1800s. Chan has proven himself to be a most enjoyable sport; he has no qualms about making himself look foolish to grab the laugh. His often physical antics are balanced by Owen Wilson's California Zen-like attitude—he over analyzes almost every aspect of his life and the action around him, usually with more emptiness than an A-list porn star. Someday I'd like to see a movie solely starring Wilson and his fluffy, baffling witticisms. As usual, a movie of this stature must have the obligatory villain(s), and this time around we get the puffy haired Aiden Gillen as a devious Brit with revenge on his mind and Donnie Yen as a snarling Chinese rebel—and I ask you, is there any other kind?
After watching this film and writing this review, I'm inclined to revisit the original Shanghai Noon to see what I missed the first time around. I give the sequel high marks for this feat—it takes a very special follow-up to make me want to see an original that I disliked the first time. Maybe the buddy action genre has some life left in it yet…
Shanghai Noon is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Overall, Buena Vista has done a nice job on this transfer. The colors and flesh tones all appear well rendered and solid. The black levels sometimes have a bit of a rough look to them, though overall they're in decent shape. I spotted no intrusive edge enhancement, dirt, grain, or haloing, making this an above average transfer.
The soundtrack is presented in a very rollicking Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix in English and French. I'm pleased to report that this soundtrack is a wonderful mix for any home theater system. There are a multitude of sounds, directional effects, and explosions to thrill any action fan. Both the front and rear speakers get a heavy workout—overall, a very fine job by Buena Vista. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Buena Vista's included so many extra features that it's practically a Shanghai surprise (Madonna and Sean Penn not included). Here's a rundown of what's been included on this disc:
Two Commentary Tracks: Two separate commentary tracks have been included on this disc: one by director David Dobkin and a second by screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. Not surprisingly, Dobkin spends much more time discussing the technical aspects of the film while Gough and Millar endlessly chat about the story and characters. While I didn't listen to both tracks all the way though, what I did hear sounded interesting and informative (and Chan sounds like he'd be a fun guy to work with). Production info, casting calls, and thoughts on the screenplay pepper both of these commentary tracks. Combined, both of these tracks should provide viewers with a wealth of information about the film, the characters, and the shoot.
Deleted Scenes: Eleven deleted and extended scenes are included, each presented in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen with time code in each corner of the screen. While a few of these are mildly amusing (especially Roy's description of an English prison), there's a reason why they're "deleted scenes."
Fight Manual: This featurette includes interviews with Chan and director David Dobkin talking about the action scenes, keeping the story on track even during the fight scenes, and various other pontifications on the movie. Fans will get a kick out of this feature due to all the behind-the-scenes footage that's been included.
Action Overload: If you were watching the film and thinking, "You know, this is good and all, but I really wish it had been done as a colorless old time movie with a ragtime score," then you're in luck. Basically, this is a very short (under three minutes) cut of the film's fight scenes put to old time bar music. Funny, but only worth one look.
For mindless entertainment, you can do no better than Shanghai Knights. Jackie Chan is at the top of his chop kick game, tempered by Owen Wilson's laidback charm. If you missed this in the theaters, it's worth a look on DVD. Buena Vista's work on this disc is appropriately well done.
Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. 'Nuff said. Now it's time for me to re-rent the first film…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
• Commentary Track by Director David Dobkin
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