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Shanghai Knights - Click to view! SHANGHAI KNIGHTS (2003)
Starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson.
Directed by David Dobkin.
MPAA rating: PG-13

When writing for a Christian website such as this, one must be wary of using the term "crossover." Visions of Jars of Clay, Sixpence and Switchfoot, of course, immediately spring to mind. But in terms of imports from Hong Kong, actor/martial arts whiz Jackie Chan certainly ranks among the most successful. He's right up there with lo mein and wonton soup.

That said, his appeal has always been more as a cartoonish version of Bruce Lee: a genuine nice guy with the skills as a martial artist, but with limited range as an actor. His most successful movies have been buddy comedies, in which he provides the thrills while an incompetent American screws things up and provides comic relief. The Rush Hour films made zillions, and Shanghai Noon, the predecessor to Shanghai Knights, the film discussed here, was a genuine hit in its own right. Knights follows the same formula as the Rush Hour movies, substituting white guy Owen Wilson for Chris Tucker. The film is enjoyable if you can get past this fact, and the sense that you're being milked for cash by studio execs and/or screenwriters too focused on the bottom line to take risks. But that's a tough sensation to shake.

Knights picks up where Noon left off. Chan's character, Chon Wang is a sheriff in a small American town, and Wilson's character (Roy O'Bannon) is a waiter in the big city. Wang gets word that his father has been murdered, that a valuable diamond has been stolen by a British lord (Alec Baldwin lookalike Aidan Gillen) and sets sail for London in search of both. Along the way, O'Bannon manages to get them into various crises (almost always solved by kung fu fighting), and Wang is left to clean up the mess. There is also a love story thrown into the mix (the womanizing O'Bannon falls for and becomes faithful to Wang's sister), but it seems more an obligatory addition than something that is seriously thought out.

Chan is, as always, spectacular during the fight and stunt sequences, making egg foo yung out of large groups of incompetent boobs. He is less impressive during the film's quieter moments (mainly because he still seems to struggle with the English language), but this is often excusable.

Wilson, like Tucker, is also adequate as an accomplice. He looks odd in his chaps-and-cowboy-boots getup (he would be in his element on a California beach with a surfboard in hand), but manages to gracefully play the idiot-a directionless 30 year-old in search of his life's purpose.

Unfortunately, the film also uses a lot of profanity and sexual humour that is unnecessary. O'Bannon is all but sex-obsessed, and many jokes centre around this trait. This PG-13 movie could easily have been PG if these things were avoided. But that isn't to say that Knights isn't without its merits. O'Bannon is a dope without purpose or direction, but seems righted when the right woman comes along. Wang learns not to be overprotective of his sister, and not to take his friendship with O'Bannon for granted.

Aside from a few jokes that fall flat, and some inappropriate humour, viewers over the age of 13 should find Knights entertaining.
- Ben Forrest
March 2003
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