Shanghai Knights (2003)

AKA Shanghai Kid 2

Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Fisher, Aidan Gillen, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen

Directed by David Dobkin

Expectations: Super low. I remember hating this.


When I saw Shanghai Knights in 2003, it put me off Jackie Chan movies for years. Re-watching it was an equally painful experience; out of all the modern American films Jackie made up to this point, Shanghai Knights was easily the hardest to sit through. But in the nearly 15 years between watches, I’ve become a lot more able to sort through my feelings and process them into some kind of understanding. In 2003, I simply hated the film, but now in 2017 it’s more disappointment I’m feeling.

Shanghai Knights takes the Shanghai Noon boys and drops them into 1800s London, under the auspices of finding the killer of Chon Wang’s father. There’s a little more to it, but that’s pretty much the only thing that matters. Almost everything else is filler or distraction, and very little of it helps to further much of anything. The weak story of action setup can work in a Jackie film (see: Mr. Nice Guy), but this sort of thing lives or dies depending on the person watching it. The comedy of Shanghai Knights is far from funny or entertaining (most of it coming through inane references to popular things from our era), and the action, while good and a step up from the original film, is the source of much of my disappointment.

Things that come close to greatness are more disappointing to me, because the unrealized potential is so apparent and seemingly easily attainable. Something completely horrible is bad and comfortably overlooked, but something almost there can be maddening. This is the defining element of the action in Shanghai Knights; it’s well-choreographed and contains tons of great situations and ideas, but the music is completely inappropriate. The music itself is fine by itself, and it would work over the right kind of scene. Music is a key component to the rhythm of a fight scene, but the score of Shanghai Knights almost feels like it’s actively working against the flow of the action. I’m all for experimentation and artistic risk, but scoring fights with music more fitting for parading around a town square is just unacceptable.

As much as the music works against the action, the editing and camerawork betray the fights at times, too. A great Jackie Chan action scene has a natural flow and energy to it that’s unlike anything else in the movies. It’s what ignited my passion for Hong Kong movies over 20 years ago, and it continues to stoke the flames. This energy and rhythm comes in flashes in the action of Shanghai Knights, but I couldn’t make it through a single action scene without it being broken multiple times due to the editing, specifically because certain actions or shots weren’t naturally flowing into one another.

At the time, I attributed this to the direction by David Dobkin. After the movie was over, I decided to give the deleted scenes a run through, in spite of my better judgement. Why would I watch more of a movie I didn’t like? What I found in here — along with many scenes cut for time — were multiple action scenes in their original state, before they were edited into the movie. So yeah, the action scenes were finished, edited pieces that were then cut down into the disappointing versions in the movie. Watching these uncut versions of the fight scenes (thankfully without music, too!) was a revelation, because it showed that Jackie choreographed wonderfully flowing action scenes that are much closer to his Hong Kong style than anything he’d done in the US previously. It’s mind-boggling why they’d have Jackie spend so much time crafting true Jackie-style fights and then completely sabotage them. WTF!?!

If you’re a fan of the first film, I imagine you’ll like this one, too. I didn’t like either of them, so there must be people out there that are opposite to me, right? I do find it weird that they almost completely abandoned the western setting for this film, but since they already used just about every Western cliche, there probably weren’t enough for a sequel. So I guess it makes sense that they went to England and thoroughly exploited many of the stereotypes and American cliches about the British! I’m glad there isn’t a third movie; I don’t know if I could take it.

Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is the Hong Kong film The Medallion! I’ve heard some bad things, but it can’t be as bad as the American films, can it? See ya then!

5 comments to Shanghai Knights (2003)

  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed the movie very much, just like every other Jackie Chan movie that was ever made. I would love to see you do half the stunts he does.

    • I’m glad you liked the movie, and every Jackie Chan movie! I can’t do his stunts, but I have a tremendous love and respect for him and his abilities.

  • Travis E.

    It’s amazing how much we disagree on this. The Shanghai movies are to me, hands down, Jackie’s best American efforts; the charm, the inventiveness and yes, the time spent on the choreography. This seems to be a glass half full/empty perspective. I see it as “for a Hollywood effort, this is pretty great” whereas your take is “but it should have been SO much more.” Of course, it can ALWAYS be so much more with his American movies. This deserves more than two stars in my opinion. You gave a higher rating to the terrible Rush Hour 2 (where the “final fight” is a single kick)…I simply cannot process that…

    • Yes, it’s definitely half full/half empty difference of perspective. For a Hollywood Jackie movie, this does a lot of things right in regards to allowing Jackie to do his style of action. Which is why the re-editing and the bad music really bother me, because they had the greatness in their hands and they actively ruined it. 🙂 The fights play soooooo much better in their unedited form.

      As for Rush Hour 2, I think the key thing is that I like the humor of the Rush Hour movies, and I really don’t like the humor of the Shanghai movies. So as an overall experience I find the Rush Hour movies better, but I would agree that action wise Shanghai Knights is “more Jackie-like.” If that makes sense. That final kick of Rush Hour 2 didn’t bother me because I knew John Lone wasn’t going to be fighting. They cast for acting and not action, but I agree they could’ve gotten someone that Jackie could’ve gone toe-to-toe with. But with those movies, they seem to diminish Jackie some so that Chris Tucker doesn’t look useless alongside him.

      • Travis E.

        Humor is so subjective, I think we can just agree to disagree there. RH1 is pretty funny, but in 2 & 3 Tucker just gets on my nerves. I like Wilson and Chan’s relationship…Wilson’s character actually feels important by helping Jackie stay focused on the mission (example: “What do we do when we see him?” “kill him!” “NO!”). I guess the music isn’t as big of a deal to me (or I didn’t notice as much), but I agree the deleted/extended fight scenes are better. The full scenes should’ve made the final cut, but I’m not surprised either. Because Hollywood. Despite this, I still love what we DID get and I’m happy Jackie got his Eastern-Western made. It’s a bummer it didn’t work for you, but I can understand being frustrated by Hollywood editing, etc.

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