It's an odd thing, this syndrome where people seem to automatically dislike a sequel more than the original. I don't know whether its subconscious or what but the IMDb proves it; Almost everywhere I go, people seem to agree (at least movie lovers) that "Aliens" is even better than "Alien", yet "Aliens" is listed #85 on IMDb's top 250, "Alien" is #61. Then there is another masterpiece: "The Godfather", all though many people seem to agree that however great, "The Godfather Part II" is even better. Not so according to the votes from IMDb-users: "The Godfather" is #1, "Part II" is #4. "Star Wars" is #10, "The Empire Strikes Back" is #15, and the list goes on and on. It's as if the general public goes into sequel-sucks-mode before they see the film and automatically would give it a lower grade no matter what. This also seems to be the case with "Shanghai Knights". Like many of my movie geek friends I thought the first film was great, but "Shanghai Knights" took me by great surprise and turned out to be even better, much more fun, better fights, greater villains, greater scenery, bigger plot, more film references, and I can go on. Still, it gets a 6,4 average while the first one gets a 6,7. Apparently it is one of the laws of physics that all though you personally feel a sequel outdoes the original, the masses would have you believe otherwise (the "Toy Story"-movies being the exception that proves the rule).
Well, we're all better off without the masses anyway. That's why nature invented things like the plague!
Now to my review of "Shanghai Knights":
I rarely laugh out loud to comedies unless it's Monty Python-type comedy filled with unpredictable insane humour, but "Shanghai Knights" had me in stitches several times. I really liked the first film, but the sequel is filled with references to everything you ever found fascinating about Britain and the charming duo of Chan and Wilson this time reaches its peak. But what really gets this film going is fight scenes like you've never seen them before! I am serious, I've watched Jackie Chan-films since I was a little kid and everyone knows he is the Buster Keaton of martial arts, but this time the fights choreographed by Jackie himself are so exhilarating to watch, boasting with playfulness to such a degree it leaves you dumbstruck in awe. All though it is apparent they used wires on some of the stunts, the mix of wire- and wireless stunts seem to balance themselves perfectly, giving a show fit for the greatest circus on Earth! It is hard to put to words the sheer delight it is to watch Jackie Chan (now close to 50!) beating up a gang of crooks while at the same time doing an homage to Gene Kelly and "Singin' in the Rain"! It gave me that rare sensation I remember getting the first time I saw Chaplin perform the "dance of the rolls" in the "Gold Rush", Buster Keaton caught in the middle of that hurricane in "Steamboat Bill Jr." or when Donald O'Connor ran up the wall in "Singin' in the Rain". It is a rare cinematic treat, created by and performed to excellence by Jackie Chan, again underlining what a rare and unique screen artist he is and how grateful we should be for him risking his back to give us that joy. People who still think of him as only a martial arts artist should take a hike. He's been a legend in his own right for close to two decades, one of the greatest entertainers of his generation (if not THEE greatest) so I ask you this: when will they give him an Honorary Academy Award!? I am sure Chaplin, Keaton and Gene Kelly would have supported this wholeheartedly, had they been alive today!
A great deal is also owed to the writing pair of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Made Men, Spider-Man 2) who pepper the story with quirky charm the type Chan & Wilson seem born to play, once in a while serving up hysterical one-liners that should crack up anyone with an IQ over 50 (the best one has to be the subtitle after one of the characters has an encounter with Jack the Ripper).
Not surprisingly many of the people with an IQ *under* 50 bothered to fill the Goof-section up with all the factual errors in "Shanghai Knights" when it is just the thing you have to expect from a crazy comedy of this kind. For as long as I can remember I've enjoyed British history, I know the first real automobile wasn't invented until 1889, I'm a big fan of the Jack the Ripper-legend who terrorized London in 1888, I love the work of Chaplin who was born in 1889, I know Arthur Conan Doyle was originally a doctor of optometry, but not once did I mind all these things clashing in 1887's London, it is pure fantasy and should be enjoyed as such. Wonderful escapism played to perfection by great talent in front of and behind the camera. The writers didn't intend to re-create history, they just did as Jackie Chan would do in a fight: take every thing available and throw it in to make it more entertaining to the viewer! Then again there are people who have NO relation to any of the above-listed things and not surprisingly they won't find "Shanghai Knights" that entertaining. Which is really sad, for if you love movies you should *really* learn to love history as well, as the two can make a fabulous pair whether it is done in the name of fantasy or fiction.
Of course director David Dobkin also deserves special praise for never letting the heart and soul of the film getting lost in all the commotion.
I didn't mention Owen Wilson in all this, but don't get me wrong, he's great as usual. Wilson and Chris Tucker (Rush Hour) has to be the greatest thing happening to Jackie Chan since he discovered the art of mixing comedy with martial arts. And of course the supporting actors deserves mentioning, especially Aidan Gillen who makes a wonderful sneaky upper-class villain (named Rathbone, not exactly the most inventive referance to Hollywood legendary actor Basil Rathbone - but still wonderful the same) and Aaron Johnson as a kid who looks and acts like he was just pulled out of "Oliver!" with great conviction (a scene where Wilson tells him of for being a an orphan is both heartbreaking and side-splittingly funny at the same time). Fann Wong also does a great English language-speaking film debut as Jackie Chan's sister.
To sum it all up; leaving me laughing to the point of exhaustion, "Shanghai Knights" is one of this years most pleasant surprises!