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SHANGHAI KNIGHTS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Donnie Yen, Fann Wong
Director:  David Dobkin
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Touchstone
Features:  See Review
Length:  114 Minutes
Release Date: 

“What did your dad do?”

“He was Keeper of the Imperial Seal.”

“That’s what I love about China…all your job descriptions sound so damn cool!”

Film **

An open letter to Jackie Chan…

Dear Jackie,

Greetings from one of your long time American fans!  I hope this writing finds you well…it will no doubt find you as busy as always, doing what you love and what you do best, which is making your own brand of movie magic that for decades has made you the biggest film star in the world, my country notwithstanding.

For those of us who love you, your magic will never fade away.  Some harsher critics may say that you’re showing signs of slowing down as you age, but don’t we all?  And frankly, I can’t fathom what they define as ‘slow’, anyway.  You’ve got more zip as you approach 50 than I did when I was 19.

Yet I know for all your international success, America still remains a problem for you.  When you were the top box office draw all across Asia, you came to Hollywood and were reduced to a silly bit part in Cannonball Run, where they even cast you as a Japanese man though you were Chinese.  The Protector gave you top billing, but was made by people who had no real faith in you and tried to make a Hollywood action picture instead of Jackie Chan picture…remember how you had to re-cut and re-shoot certain scenes just so the movie would play for your fans in the East?

I was pleased when Rush Hour became a blockbuster.  But at the same time, you seemed to stumble on a formula for American success that seems a little less than worthy of a star of your caliber.  Namely, playing sidekick to American stars who could have never gotten a foot in the door of one of your own Hong Kong productions.

After that movie and its sequel came another double dip, Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights, again pairing you up with an American star, this time Owen Wilson.  I liked the first movie well enough.  It wasn’t as classic as some of your best Asian films, particularly the ones you or Sammo Hung directed, but it was an amusing diversion.  But when you dipped into that well a second time, it occurred to me that something was going seriously wrong in your career.

Shanghai Knights was uninspired, unfunny, and mostly uninteresting.  I saw the film for you.  Some may have seen it for Owen Wilson.  Whether they liked it any better, I can’t say, but I can say that it pained me to see you, with all your energy and spirit, so dutiful in your approach to material that was clearly beneath you.

I realize that as age and injury begin to catch up with you that you can’t do some of the same stunts that made you a household name in the Orient.  But you can still perform an unparalleled acrobatic fight scene that puts you head and shoulders above other action stars.  That alone makes you cinema royalty, and as such, the studios should be laying down red carpet for you, not empty paper trails.

Why showcase your fighting and comedy skills in a picture where they’re quagmired in a hokey plot with a weak script whose attempts at being funny are so painfully obvious that the audience winces more often than it laughs?  True, some of your more formidable pictures may have been a little weak in the plot department, but they treated your abilities and your star power like the treasures they are.  To American studios, they seem to think your treasures should be buried.

The movie has its moments, to be sure…you have enough charm to make chemistry with any costar, so even when you’re mismatched with a gleefully clueless surfer boy type like Owen Wilson, you still find some magic.  When you fight using anything and everything around you as a weapon, you’re still the best.  And costar Fann Wong is a suitable star to support you, for she’s not only comfortable with the action, but one of the loveliest women I’ve seen on screen in a while.

This may be good enough for Hollywood standards, and certainly decent enough for most mainstream American tastes.  But why lower yourself?  Is the elusive Western success really that important to you, and now that you’ve had a taste of it, you need more?  Trust me, Jackie, and I don’t say this with any pleasure, but there’s something basically wrong with a culture that embraces Shanghai Knights and the Rush Hour movies while largely ignoring the theatrical releases of your truly amazing Hong Kong offerings like Legend of Drunken Master or Operation Condor.  If I could, I’d ask anyone who thinks of the Shanghai movies when they think of Jackie Chan to sit down and watch Police Story.  Or Project A II.  These people don’t know what they’re missing.

And sadly, when you give in and make these kinds of pictures, they never will.  As far as I and many of your truest fans are concerned, and I’m talking about the ones who know Young Master and Dragon Lord better than The Tuxedo and who painstakingly seek out your original, uncut, subtitled action masterpieces without dubbing or horrible interjections of Western music, your star will never fade no matter what you do.  But it’s a star that deserves more than that…it should shine with all the glory of your true self, the one who has always made pictures your way and enjoyed international acclaim as a result.  If America won’t come on board and embrace the real Jackie Chan, it’s her loss.

But there will never be another one like you.  And as long as you have a passion, drive, and ability to make movies, you should do them your way.  Don’t reduce yourself to something that feels equal to what most Western audiences expect.  Remember that you have no equal.  Some may never appreciate that.  But to your millions of fans around the world, and yes, there are even some here in the States, that’s why we always have and always will love you.

Your friend from the USA,

Mike

Video ***

This is a mostly solid anamorphic offering from Touchstone/Disney.  Detail level is strong, and colors are well rendered throughout.  There are touches of noticeable grain in some lower lit shots, but that’s more attributable to the film stock and the natural lighting used for effect.  Although Jackie didn’t direct this film, he still choreographed the fights, and no one makes better action use of widescreen than he…you’ll definitely appreciate the original aspect ratio.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio is also good, with dynamic range coming from the musical score and the action sequences, though there is not as much use of the rear stage as you might expect for an action film.  Dialogue is well rendered throughout.  The only real complaint is the choice of modern rock songs which tend to jolt viewers out of the period experience.  They were used cleverly in A Knight’s Tale, but here, they’re just deliberate and failed stabs at ironic counterpoint.

Features ***

Not a lot in this department, but a few goodies, starting with “Fight Manual”, in which an overly generous Jackie and director David Dobkin discuss Jackie’s ideas for the fight scenes.  There are two decent audio commentaries; one by Dobkin and one by writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.  There are some deleted scenes that were rightfully cut out, and an “Action Overload” piece of the film’s fight sequences set to music.

Summary:

Shanghai Knights is a mediocre mix of action and comedy that misses more often than it hits.  Despite the reunion of a winning pair in Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson, the movie never really gets airborne.  Fans of Jackie who have been waiting patiently for him to return to form are going to have to wait a little longer.