shanghaicoverGrade:  B+,  C+
Shanghai Noon / Shanghai Knights
Entire family: Yes . . . and no
2000 / 2003, 110 min. / 114 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for action violence, some drug humor, language and sensuality / sexual content
Touchstone / Disney
Aspect ratio:  2.35:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  C+
Trailer 1 / Trailer 2

Shanghai Noon isn’t just a fun pun on the Gary Cooper classic Western, High Noon. It’s a clever variation on the buddy cop picture, with Jackie Chan showing both his comic chops and his martial arts skills, and Owen Wilson doing what he does best—playing a laid-back, chick-magnet California surfer dude (this time, in the body of an Old West train robber) whose tongue-in-cheek verbal riffs are as funny as any stand-up routine. The two have great chemistry together, and the original concept plus a first-time feature director give them plenty of room to ad lib.

Although Shanghai Noon is rated PG-13, you rarely feel that young eyes should be shielded. There’s alcohol and drug use, but it’s played for laughs. There’s a brothel, but it just looks like Wilson’s character is popular with the ladies. There’s plenty of martial arts violence, but it’s imaginatively choreographed and, for the most part, also played for big laughs. There’s a little language, but the most blatant example occurs in subtitles. Yes, it’s a little weird when the boys have their Viagra moment in side-by-side bathtubs—eventually ending up in the same one—but this film is more comedy than action film, and more action film than it is a Western.

Even family members who don’t care much for Westerns might enjoy this one. Chon Wang (Chan) is a member of the Royal Guard who leaves the Forbidden City of China with his uncle and three other guards to ransom Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu), who is being held in Carson City, Nevada. In America he has an Indian encounter and runs afoul of a gang whose leader (Wilson) has lost all control of his minions. A series of unfortunate events brings them together as partners faster than you can say Lemony Snicket. There’s a formula at work, and a few montages feel a bit long and obligatory, but Shanghai Noon is a still a fun film that our whole family could enjoy. The trailer will give you a sense of whether it’s right for your family.

That’s not the case with Shanghai Knights, the throw-in movie on this double feature that tosses more language and blatantly sexual situations at you. Even I was slightly uncomfortable when a young woman licks Wilson’s face from chin to brow. The joke was that he was fantasizing, and it was really a goat licking him, but still, it’s graphic sexuality. The language stands out more in the sequel, as well. Frankly, so does everything else. Whatever elements made Shanghai Noon a success were duplicated times five. Subtlety is not this movie’s middle name. The fun banter over cultural differences and Chinese names and Chan’s comic fight sequences are more over-the-top in Shanghai Knights—in one scene, a fight with Chan using umbrellas turns into a Singin’ in the Rain homage—and the violence is a little more graphic. 

shanghaiscreenDirector David Dobkin decided to shine the spotlight more on Chan and his martial arts antics in Shanghai Knights. He also opted for an anachronistic everything-British soundtrack and took the name game from the first film (Wilson’s pronunciation of Chon Wang as John Wayne, and his real name being a huge large Wild West figure’s) to where now we get a street urchin named Charlie Chaplin and a Scotland Yard inspector named Arthur “Artie” Doyle—with Wilson’s character giving him the name for his fictional detective.

In Shanghai Knights, Wang learns that his father, the keeper of the Imperial Seal, has been murdered and the seal stolen. He goes to New York City to look up his old pal Roy O’Bannon, who has been secretly ghost-writing dime novels mythologizing his western exploits while working days as a water and nights as a gigolo. Wang’s sister (Fann Wong) tracked the murderer to London, which is where the partners go in order to get her out of prison and take on the bad guys—an ambitious British lord who wants to be king (Aidan Gillen) and a would-be emperor of China (real martial arts expert Donnie Yen). It’s entertaining enough, but fans who loved the tone of the first film will miss the honest energy and originality that, in the sequel, turns to formula and glitz. There are deaths in both films, as well as language and sensuality, but it seems more pronounced in the sequel.