Judge Patrick Naugle is one rootin' tootin' 21st century cowboy!
Yee-haw and bow to your sensei.
Shanghai Noon is now almost a decade and a half old. Let that sink in for a moment. The sequel, Shanghai Knights, just passed the 10 year mark. I don't have much of a point except to note that time sure does fly. I saw both Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights in the theater and haven't revisited either of them since. Both films are a good example of movies that I remember, but not really. What my mind recalls is Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan's personalities, which are what these movies are all about. Technically, Wilson and Chan play characters, but for all intents and purposes, they're just playing themselves, only in the late 1800s. If that's what you're looking for, both Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights will be right up your alley.
I enjoyed Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights enough, but therein lies both movies' main problem: they're just kind of "enough." There's nothing very exceptional about either of these films that raises them above generic Saturday night time wasters. Owen Wilson walks around the film playing an early 2000s California surfer playing an 1800s cowboy. Wilson's laidback charm is fun, but it breaks the time period because you feel like Wilson is always winking at the audience. Jackie Chan's English is quite limited, so it comes as no surprise that his usefulness is in the form of action scenes choreographed like beautiful dance routines. Since bursting on the American scene in Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie Chan has been one of my favorite performers to watch. In both of these films he shows off his prowess and martial arts skills to great effect. Thankfully, the CGI is kept to a bare minimum; aside of some background scenery, most of the effects and stunt work looks like it was done practically and in real time.
Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights feature plots that allow Owen and Chan to goof off and get into fights and chases. Seriously, does anyone really care that Chon Wang is looking for a princess or that Roy is helping to get back an ancient Chinese seal? What fans are watching these movies for is to hear Owen's mellow, glib comebacks and see Chan's fists of fury flying. For all we care the heroes could be trying to smuggle plutonium to the moon; that's how little the plot in these films matters.
The better movie, not surprisingly, is Shanghai Noon, which at least has an air of freshness to it. Chan and Wilson have a breezy charm that, while never laugh-out-loud funny (as it was in Chan's far better Rush Hour franchise), certainly is amiable and entertaining. The two actors banter back and forth, often pausing so they can a) get into a gunfight, b) flirt with the ladies, or c) thwart the bad guy's plan. The entire movie is 'standard operating procedure', which means there's little in the way of surprises (take a wild guess how the whole thing turns out at the end). Director Tom Dey—whose credits include such clunkers as Marmaduke, Showtime, and Failure to Launch—at least understands that the movie needs bursts of action every five minutes or so, and supplies them amply. And what Chan lacks in English skills, the actor more than makes up for in silliness and a giddy sense of self-deprecating humor.
Shanghai Knights stumbles because the originality of the series has already worn off. Released three years after the fact, Shanghai Knights offers a slight role reversal and takes Roy out of the old west and plops him down in England where he and Chon Wang run into everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Jack the Ripper; it's kind of like a who's who of English culture. There are the requisite fights, chase scenes, explosions, and banter between Wilson and Chan, but it all rings up as diminishing returns. While by no means a 'bad' movie, Shanghai Knights doesn't offer a lot in the way of originality. Both Wilson and Chan—as well as director David Dobkin (who teamed with Wilson years later on the superior comedy Wedding Crashers)—have been involved in far better films.
Presented in 2.35:1/1080 high definition widescreen in 1080p, both films look great on Blu-ray, each transfer combining a crystal clear picture (with a light filmic grain), eye popping colors (especially in Shanghai Knights), and solid black levels. Fans who have waited for not one but both films to arrive in high definition will not be disappointed. The soundtrack for both films is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. I'm not sure why Touchstone has bypassed a DTS-HD mix, but no matter, both audio tracks are bursting with life and feature quite a selection of surround sound effects.
To my knowledge, none of the extra features on this set are new to the high def format and are just ported over from the previous DVD versions. Shanghai Noon features a few short featurettes on the stunts, effects work, and production (mostly fluff promo pieces); a few deleted scenes; a longer "Action Overload" featurette that looks at the onset action; an audio commentary by Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, and Tom Dey, and a music video by Uncle Kracker. Shanghai Knights features some deleted scenes, a documentary titled "Fight Manual" about the film's fight scenes (duh), a featurette titled "Action Overload," and two audio commentaries with director David Dobkin and writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. Both films are featured on a single Blu-ray disc.
It may be my expectations for Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights was a bit too high. I recall both films as being fun, light hearted entertainment. That's still the case, but time hasn't been as kind. While they are well made and easily digested, there's nothing in this series that makes me want to revisit it a third time.
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