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Bob Smithouser

Movie Review

This sequel to Shanghai Noon picks up several years later, in 1887, as karate-chopping lawman Chon Wang (pronounced John Wayne) has single-handedly cleaned the rabble from Carson City, Nevada. But Wang’s duties as sheriff get interrupted when his sister, Chon Lin, sends news of their father’s death. The keeper of China’s precious Imperial Seal, elder Chon has fallen victim to a band of murderous thieves led by an overly ambitious Brit named Lord Nelson Rathbone (who looks like a cross between Alan Ruck and a diabolical Baldwin). The vengeful Lin has tracked her father’s killer to London. That’s where she reconnects with her estranged brother, but not before he pays a visit to his wisecracking, womanizing old pal Roy O’Bannon (this generation’s answer to Brett Maverick) in hopes of collecting his share of the riches they ended up with at the end of the first film. No such luck. Roy squandered the loot publishing pulp fiction and living above his means. Always up for an adventure, Roy hopes to make it up to Wang by joining him on his quest, then proceeds to fall for the beautiful and feisty Lin. The trio’s simple plan to avenge a murder and recover the Imperial Seal gets increasingly complicated when Lin becomes a pawn in Rathbone’s plot to assassinate the royal family and seize the throne of England.

positive elements: The Chon family believes in honor and the bond of kinship. Although father and son are estranged, it becomes clear that Wang’s dad never truly disowned him, and was proud of his son’s desire to chart his own course. Despite being a shameless playboy, Roy resists the charms of an eager girl once he realizes he has developed deeper feelings for Lin. Wang wants to protect his sister—from the bad guys and from Roy. He is honest with Lin about Roy’s character, painting him as an undesirable mate because he drinks, smokes, lies, gambles and “sleeps with women for money.” Modeling self-sacrifice, the friends rush to one another’s aid, sometimes risking their own safety in the process. They also put their lives on the line to thwart a mass assassination and preserve political order. Normally selfish and greedy, Roy surrenders the coveted Imperial Seal to save a pesky street urchin’s life. The lad returns the favor. Wang treats patience as a virtue, which it is (2 Peter 1:6, Eccl. 7:8, 2 Tim. 3:10). When Wang asks Roy about his short-term plan, Roy facetiously contemplates his big-picture objectives: “The plan is to find the right woman, raise a lot of kids and teach them right values” (not that he’d know a “right value” if it shot him in the leg, but he has the right idea).

spiritual content: Roy notes that the dime-store novel he wrote ranked second only to the Bible in popularity. While dangling from the face of Big Ben, Roy prays to the Lord for help.

sexual content: The film makes Roy so funny and sympathetic that his immoral attitudes and behavior come off merely as impish habits, not the deep-seated flaws they really are. That’s especially true in the area of sexuality. These days we have a term for guys like Roy: sex addicts. He makes James Bond seem downright finicky. He’s a hired gigolo and an eager playmate of the tittering floozies wearing little more than garters and low-cut bodices. He even sets Wang up to earn traveling cash by sending an amorous client his way (fortunately, Wang refuses, stating, “I will not sleep with women for money”). Upon meeting Lin, Roy sees her as his next romantic conquest based on looks alone. He dreams about being in a harem of willing women, one of whom is Lin, who produces a copy of the Kama Sutra and licks his face (he awakens to find a sheep licking him instead). Dialogue includes references to penis size, sterility, venereal disease and kinky sexual positions. Roy and Wang get involved in a pillow fight with a group of busty women that starts as lighthearted frolicking and ends with the men stark naked. A secret panel is activated by pressing the breast of a nude statue.

violent content: The opening scene is the most unsettling as noble Chinese guards are shot with arrows and seized by the neck with ropes. There’s also an implied decapitation. Lin engages in hand-to-hand combat with the intruders and gets kicked through a wall (she is locked in life-and-death struggles with men on several occasions throughout the film). Her father is stabbed in the chest with a dagger. From that point on, most of the frequent violence is theatrical or comical (usually involving deftly executed martial arts choreography). People are kicked, punched, whacked with props, etc. Shootouts and swordplay yield some casualties. Brutes attack with knives. A machine-gun gone wild sprays bullets at the royal family and poses a threat to those wrestling in its immediate vicinity. Bound and hung upside down, Roy gets dunked underwater and nearly drowns. Jack the Ripper is making headlines, but meets his match when he approaches Lin on a dark bridge. A man is done in with a large fireworks rocket. Another falls to his death after smashing through the face of Big Ben (the camera watches him plunge to earth).

crude or profane language: Outtakes included, there are two dozen profanities, plus several instances of sexual slang and innuendo. Audiences are exposed to four s-words and two exclamatory uses of Christ’s name (one by a child).

drug and alcohol content: Several scenes find Roy drinking champagne, brandy or whiskey, and smoking cigars. He numbs the sting of hurtful words by getting drunk at a bar.

other negative elements: While Exodus 20:15 leaves little wiggle room, stealing is not clearly condemned or condoned here, forcing viewers to draw their own conclusions. Roy’s bombastic pro-America, anti-British trash talk is amusing, but may be offensive to folks on the losing side of the Revolutionary War. Lin and Wang are driven by vengeance (Romans 12:17-21).

conclusion: The talents of Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson—not to mention their chemistry together—make Shanghai Knights a cut above the formulaic buddy pic. Chan’s soft-spoken Asian hero with puppy-dog eyes and inner decency is the perfect complement to Wilson’s vainglorious American charmer quick with a verbal comeback and a mercenary angle. Just when you’re afraid that nice-guy Chan may be too soft for the circumstances, he lets fly those trademark martial arts moves, using lemons, umbrellas and even a revolving door to humiliate, disarm and disable his attackers. One cleverly choreographed scene is an homage to Gene Kelly’s sidewalk side-stepping in Singin’ in the Rain. Music man Randy Edelman deserves a lot of credit for playing with an eclectic collage of sonic styles (classic scoring evoking various film genres, as well as pop ditties like “Winchester Cathedral”) that keep things light, fresh and full of energy. The writing is sharp and funny, often relying on what-if historical encounters (aspiring writer Artie Doyle asks to borrow Roy’s impromptu alias, Sherlock Holmes, for the name of his literary detective) or clever anachronisms (such as when Roy “unknowingly” quotes a Beatles lyric). The film closes with a hilarious series of outtakes. For sheer entertainment value, Shanghai Knights actually improves on the original, yet succumbs to many of the same problems that shanghaied its predecessor. Profanity. Chic promiscuity. A few violent deaths. Sexual humor. That’s unfortunate, because as action comedies go, this one delivers.

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Bob Smithouser