Grade: C-/?
Entire family: No
Action-Fantasy
2019, 109 min., Color
Well Go USA Entertainment
Not rated (would be PG for crude humor and action violence)
Aspect ratio: 16×9 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1 Mandarin (and English dubbed) with English subtitles
Bonus features: C+ (better than the film!)
Trailer
Amazon link

If you look at the cover of The Knight of Shadows with its tagline “Martial Arts Fantasy Adventure” and see Jackie Chan and a serious-looking co-star in period garb, you’d think you’re in store for a serious adventure. You get a similar impression if you read the Imdb.com or Amazon.com description that the studio provided: “A legendary demon hunter (Jackie Chan), tracking down beasts that enter the human dimension, assisted by a lawman protégé and a motley group of friendly monsters.” Still promising, right? Even if you watch the official trailer, with its strange H.R. Pufnstuf-style characters, you never get the sense that silliness ever tries to hijack the film.

Then you watch the film and go, seriously?

Director Jia Yan tries to juggle the comedy and martial arts adventure, and if they were knives he’d still be in the emergency room getting stitched up. This is a film that lurches clumsily between Three Stooges silliness (three law enforcement officers in The Knight of Shadows do their best to ruin Moe, Larry, and Curly for future generations) and cartoonish creatures that are just poorly designed and clumsily integrated into the plot—as if Jia Yan looked at the first print and thought, “We have to do more with this film to attract small children.” Let’s put in a pig character, and a cross between a fairy and Groot, and a character whose only function is to talk about “farts” and throwing his own special brand of f-bombs here and there.

The influential Chinese website Douban gave The Knight of Shadows a 4.3 out of 10, and I’d have to say that my family and I had nearly the same reaction. I’d go ever-so-slightly higher because there are some wonderful serious action sequences that seem to come out of nowhere, but make you wish that the director had chosen to go this route instead of trying to straddle the fantasy fanboy and Saturday morning cartoon audiences.

The plot itself is complicated enough that, wires or not, it would soar over the heads of little ones, and yet silly enough to where what happens is an insult to the intelligence of anyone over five years old.

You have to feel for Chan, who does the best with what he has. Then again, Chan was executive producer on this project. Didn’t he see how clumsily the humor and action and adventure were combined, or how the film kept shifting between younger and older audiences?

While the fantasy CGI sequences are uneven, the fight sequence special effects are worthy of a better overall film. Visual effects supervisor Adrian Chan provides over a crew that really sells the concept of Chan’s character being able to wave a paintbrush and paint monsters into a book—not unlike the old Ghostbusters films that had the heroes zapping and then trapping the supernatural entities into a container.

But the film itself? It’s a 5 out of 10 at best.

It’s interesting that Pu Songling is a storyteller who hawks his books and also, on the side, hunts demons. When he sets out with an old assistant and a new protégé they eventually run across a beautiful super demon named Xiao Qian, who has a history with one of the characters. Some of those sequences are beautiful to watch, but because the story itself has been such a mishmash of styles it’s hard to embrace the emotional moment that the director obviously sets up.

Worse, fans of Chan will watch some of his sequences and lament that more of them were CGI rather than Chan doing what he does best—his own stuntwork.

Language: Nothing much here either, whether you watch the Mandarin or the dubbed English version—though it is a little jarring to have this little fart-monster keep talking about leaving “farts” here and there

Sex: Nothing at all, except for a man disguised as a woman for comic effect

Violence: There’s martial arts violence, but no blood

Adult situations: Chan’s character gets drunk at one point

Takeaway: Jackie Chan, what were you thinking???