Shanghai Knights

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

SHANGHAI KNIGHTS

2/10

USA 2003 : David DOBKIN : 114 mins

Though its American posters proclaimed it as “A royal kick in the arse”, this witless sequel to Shanghai Noon turns out to be a regal pain in the posterior. Kung-fu master Chon (Jackie Chan) and laid-back coward Roy (Owen Wilson) are transplanted from the Wild West to Old Blighty – mainly so the stingy producers can cut costs by (A) using the ‘1880s London’ sets built in Prague for From Hell, and (B) employing relatively cheap Czech crew. It also helped that Wilson was relatively nearby in Budapest filming I Spy – another odd-couple comedy-actioner that seems like a masterpiece alongside this cynical exercise in profit-driven Hollywood ‘product.’

The Prague locations explain the crowds of conspicuously Eastern-European-looking extras standing around bemused during the staggeringly unconvincing street scenes – many of them featuring Charlie (Aaron Johnson), a shameless caricature of a tousle-haired orphan-urchin Cockney. To justify the setting, the script concocts a nonsensical, convoluted story in which scheming villains plot to bump off Queen Victoria and (somehow) take control of China – but this is just a flimsy structure for a series of desperately old-hat “set pieces” in which Chan and Wilson deliver their trademark (i.e. over-familiar) physical and verbal characterisations.

As usual, Wilson improvises most of his own wisecracking dialogue riffs – which is just as well, given the lacklustre screenplay by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. They make the merest token effort at historical accuracy and tastelessly incorporate From Hell‘s villain Jack The Ripper into its comic high-jinks. “Wait a minute!? This nut is killing your street women?!” exclaims Roy in an especially crass moment that somehow didn’t make it into editor Martin Campbell’s final cut, but resurfaces in dull out-takes clagged unceremoniously onto the last scene. These include Chan genially expressing his dissatisfaction when Dobkin allows a scene to run on too long: “You have to say cut!” he helpfully points out to the dozing dim-bulb behind the camera.

Though the opening titles bombastically proclaim ‘A David Dobkin Film’, the self-deluding proto-auteur proves equally ill-suited to action and comedy – perhaps, then, he wasn’t such a great choice for an action-comedy picture. When in doubt (i.e. throughout) he simply amps up Danny Edelman’s incessant, blaring muzak score – which jostles for attention with a brash succession of deliberately anachronistic pop and rock numbers including a stunningly ham-fisted use of Harry Nilsson’s plaintive ‘One’ as Roy mooches lovelorn in a hotel bar. It’s hard to imagine a more depressing contrast to the brilliant deployment of the track over the opening titles of Magnolia, but the next scene is even worse – a pillow-fight featuring Chon, Roy and some well-scrubbed London whores that culminates in a slow-motion rain of feathers. A clear nod to Zero de Conduite, though the incompetence displayed in Shanghai Knights suggests it’s more likely Dobkin read about Jean Vigo’s 1933 classic in a book rather than actually watched it himself.

26th March, 2003
(seen same day, Warner Village, Newcastle)

For the many other films as bad as this (and worse) check out our Diorama of Dishonour

by Neil Young