Shanghai Noon, the surprise hit of 2000, came blessed with two hefty advantages over previous US outings for Jackie Chan. One, it was free of Chris Tucker's brain-grating gob-squeals. Two, it possessed a suitably comic structure to support Chan's trademark stunt work.
Much of this was thanks to a loose, knowing, fast-moving script from writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar; the rest was down to the stoned-washout charm of Owen Wilson as postmodern cowboy Roy O'Bannon. And everyone's back on board this time out, sticking like barnacles to the established template.
The Imperial Seal (a big jewel, basically) has been stolen, meaning Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) must again call on Roy's assistance. The bickering duo head to 1880s London to retrieve the pilfered gem, where they promptly stumble upon a dastardly plot to off the Royal family. From there, it's business as usual: Chon Wang fights the bad guys, O'Bannon cracks wise and culture-clash jests come thick and fast. The difference? Well, this time the guys are joined by a sexy, kung-fulsome female - Wang's sister, Lin (the rather lovely Fann Wong).
If it's comic clashes you're after, Chan fans can celebrate. Okay, so he'll never reclaim his glory days - he's now 48 - but Shanghai Knights sees Jackie indulge his passion for Buster Keaton and all things silent and comic-like. It's a love shared by director David Dobkin, who allows Chan plenty of opportunity to play homage to his heroes, be it hanging off the clock face of Big Ben just like Harold Lloyd, or chop-sockying foes with an umbrella while doing a `Singin' In The Rain' routine.
In fact, this is just one of several standout scrap sequences, Chan using revolving doors, ladders and just about any prop that comes to hand to blind you with his speed, timing and dexterity. It also helps having lightning-quick Chinese martial-arts star Donnie Yen snarling along for the ride as the villain's wicked henchman. With someone of equal skill to bounce off (often literally), Chan's at his physical best, leaving the laconic Wilson free to take care of the verbal humour.
On the downside, the digs at English culture and history wear thin, with nods towards Sherlock Holmes and Jack The Ripper thrown in for no reason other than to gain a cheap laugh. Gags about spotted dick and yellow teeth soon drag (Wilson's admitted to being a tad embarrassed about having to mouth them), and every English character is either a bleedin' 'eck cock-er-nee or a scheming, caddish snob. It's probably meant to be ironic. It comes across as moronic.
Even so, there's enough here to suggest there's life in the franchise yet. Which is handy, seeing as both Wilson and Chan have already agreed to the third instalment. Yes, expect Shanghai Dawn sometime in 2005...
The (cow)boys are back in town - - and they're still riding pretty high. Not as good as Shanghai Noon, but you'll trot over the horizon with a grin planted firmly on your face.