Jackie Chan’s US film efforts have proven both hit and miss so far – “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon” were funny and very entertaining studio action comedies though the former’s sequel was a rather lame and mostly dull follow-up.
The good news is the sequel to the latter doesn’t suffer the same fate and although lacking the energy and wit of its predecessor, ‘Knights’ benefits from a bigger story and better supporting cast. The Victorian England allows for more elaborate in-jokes and references including some well-worked in cameos from the likes of Jack the Ripper to author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whilst the limp plot of a royal family assassination attempt has a better sense of menace and urgency about it than the ‘captured princess’ routine.
Chan himself is at his best in ages – the six or so action routines ranging from a hilarious UK street fight set to “Singing in the Rain” to some rather astonishing swordplay in the clockworks of Big Ben are superbly done and combine both mind-blowingly complicated and well-timed routines with a high energy physical comedy that has become the man’s signature.
He and Wilson both have a great chemistry on-screen and play off each other well, even if many of Wilson’s one-liners this time around sink before they’re even out of his mouth. Fann Wong makes a likeable tough female lead as Chan’s sister whilst Aidan Gillen, still the best actor out of all versions of the “Queer as Folk” series, makes a superb snarling British villain and excellent evil foil – far more than Donnie Yen as his disappointing co-conspirator.
That said the film is not without its problems – most tying back to a rather loose script which tries to play its comedy all too broadly. As a result a lot of the gags simply flop – I giggled a few times but never really outright laughed at anything in this (especially in the leaden pre-England scenes), probably because every time the writers went for the very obvious and never really spent time on setting up the routines to make certain gags work.
This type of film doesn’t have much credibility, but even for this there’s a whole lot of suspension of disbelief required as for mid-late 19th century England things seem frighteningly advanced at times. Randy Edelman’s background score is forgettable for the most part that is until remixed versions of classic 60’s & 70’s songs suddenly appear which seem really out of place. “Shanghai Knights” joins the likes of “Blade II”, “Lethal Weapon III” and “The Lost World” – an enjoyable by-the-numbers sequel which doesn’t detract but doesn’t necessarily add to its franchise either. Seen as a piece of entertainment, its a welcome diversion.