Shanghai Knights (2003)

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Released 27-Jan-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Scene Selection Audio
Featurette-Fight Manual
Featurette-Action Overload
Deleted Scenes-11
Audio Commentary-David Dobkin (Director)
Audio Commentary-Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Screenwriters)
Outtakes
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 109:48
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:05) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Dobkin
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Jackie Chan
Owen Wilson
Donnie Yen
Aidan Gillen
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.90 Music Randy Edelman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Hungarian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Hungarian
Spanish Text Commentary
Smoking Yes, Roy enjoys his cigars.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson are almost solely responsible for the resurrection of a venerable Hollywood genre - the buddy picture. For many years the buddy picture was a favourite of the silver screen, even producing its own sub-genre, the buddy-cop picture. But in the mid-to-late eighties, a wind of change blew through Hollywood, and the buddy picture was removed from the landscape, like a sand-dune in the Sahara. Jump forward fifteen odd years and we arrive at 1998, and a little film that could is conquering box-offices across the world. Rush Hour, combining the talents of American comedian Chris Tucker, and well respected (but without an American success story to his name) martial-arts actor Jackie Chan exploded onto an unsuspecting world, and in the process set a trend underway. In the years since, there have been many imitators, most not very successfully (just look at the mega-budget flop Wild Wild West, or the recent Showtime that never really hit its straps). One that stood out, however, also involved Chan, this time partnered with the king of "surfer-chic", Owen Wilson (who has appeared in other buddy fare I Spy and Zoolander). Once again, the partnership was dynamite, despite Wilson not having had any real previous commercial success, and Rush Hour being Jackie Chan's only one. That film was Shanghai Noon, and as the title suggested with its play on High Noon, it was a martial-arts western. Excuse me? Like Lightning Jack was an Aussie-larrikin western? Well, yes, only much better - and more importantly, far more successful. This film, Shanghai Knights is its sequel.

    So how do you go about creating sequel magic? Shanghai Knights is a fair example, and while many would debate whether it is as good as its predecessor, few would suggest the film is a dud. The first step to ensure sequel success is to retain the main stars from the first outing, achieved here with both Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson returning. Lucy Liu is gone, but there is a ready replacement in Asian songstress Fann Wong, so the film does not really miss her. The next step is to attempt to achieve the same style in the script. For that, the writers of Shanghai Noon return. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, whose previous credits include Lethal Weapon 4, and who are also co-creators and executive producers for TVs Smallville, bring the same comedy feel to this film as to the first. Finally, for the look and tone of the film, it is the director. This is the only place where Shanghai Knights misses out, as director of Shanghai Noon, Tom Dey, did not return for this instalment. That, however, is not necessarily a bad thing, as this film is a different beast to the first in a number of ways, the most obvious being the setting - Victorian London.

    The story starts with the death of Chon Wang (Jackie Chan)'s estranged father at the hands of a rather nasty looking Englishman. When Chon's sister sends him a letter in Carson City, where he is happily living out life as the Sheriff, Chon immediately sets off for the big city to meet back up with his old buddy Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson). After some typically Roy O'Bannon style shenanigans, the two set off for London together to save Chon's sister, and avenge his father's death. Once in London, they encounter a few problems - not the least of which is a plot to overthrow both the Chinese Emperor, and the English Queen. By doing what they do best they might just be able to save the world at the same time as meting out due vengeance.

    It is difficult to say if this film is better or worse than the original. The main reason for that is because it is quite different, both obviously in terms of setting, and more subtly in terms of tone. The major difference between the films is that the first one was more specifically comedy driven, keeping the action set pieces short and to the point. This film is content, especially early on, to let the action play out for quite some time, and for no other reason than for action. Director David Dobkin says that this is in an attempt to make this the closest an American Jackie Chan film has come to any of his Asian work. That may or may not be true, but the result is some of the most inspired action set-pieces committed to film in quite some time. The three highlights from the film are the keystone cops-esque revolving door fight - replete with cartoon-like sound effects - the Singin' In The Rain box-dance sequence, and the pillow-fight. The last of those is by far the high point of the movie - it is completely out of the blue, and is absolutely perfect comedy film-making.

    As for the rest of the film - the mostly non-action parts that is - it is a very good combination of comedy with revenge drama. Irish actor Aidan Gillen is appropriately slimy as the evil Rathbone, although he is slightly less successful at affecting an English accent (one assumes the American producers never noticed). Donnie Yen continues to nibble at the edges of a major Hollywood breakthrough, and Hong Kong film fans will relish the showdown between his bitter and twisted Wu Chow and Jackie Chan's Chon Wang. Tom Fisher has plenty of fun with his character of Artie Doyle (there's a joke there, by the way), and Fann Wong is both enthusiastic and likeable in her first American film, using her command of English (she is a Singaporean native) to carry more dialogue that others in similar roles (Jackie Chan in his earlier American films, and Zhang Ziyi in Rush Hour 2). All these are only window dressing however - this film is really about Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson.

    Once again Chan, the man who does all his own stunts, and Wilson, the man who does none of his own stunts, have a chemistry that completely carries the movie. The two could not be more different, but it is in that difference that the partnership works. Where Jackie Chan can kick butts from one side of the screen to the other and back again, Owen Wilson can do anything else that is needed - he is by turns a hero, a coward, brilliant, and an imbecile - but when the two come together to display emotion, the film is at its strongest. Jackie Chan can convey a lot with just a look (which is good, as his English is not yet good enough to convey all that much with his voice), while Owen Wilson is a superb actor in all facets. The bar scene in the Puss-In-Boots Inn is dramatically the highlight of any recent buddy picture and defines why this film is at the top of its game - because we care about the characters. Beyond all the cheesy jokes, slapstick humour, and fight scenes - obviously the main reason to watch movies of this type - the audience really wants Roy and Chon to succeed, and that makes the rest of the film all the more interesting.

    This is buddy filmmaking at its best, and while it will never be thought-provoking drama, it was never intended to be. Brilliant entertainment that reaffirms why it is just good fun to go to the movies. I guess that makes Shanghai Knights better than its predecessor then.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Another Buena Vista DVD, and another relatively average transfer. The picture quality presented for Shanghai Knights would have been considered first rate - in 1999. These days, it is a little disappointing for a transfer of a new film.

    Presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 this transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

    The first problem with the transfer is that it is not particularly sharp. The image contains enough detail to be pleasant, but only enough - it never goes beyond the call of duty, as so many other recent transfers do. The image has a slightly soft look to it, but at the same time, a very high contrast, which makes for a slightly disturbing image. Not helping the issue any is the presence of a consistently high level of background grain. While it is usually not too much of a problem, it does become very noticeable from time to time, with the worst instances occurring with the fog from 68:10 and again from 71:43. In addition to the grain, the transfer is plagued by what seems to be an excessive use of edge enhancement. Mild edge enhancement can be easy enough to put up with, but it is used almost constantly in this transfer and to extreme levels. While some of it is most likely due to back-lighting, the constant halos around the characters are extremely distracting. On the upside, shadow detail is very good, displaying excellent depth, with nicely penetrable blacks. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are good, and the wildly varying colour palette of this movie is rendered without any issues. The image at times takes on a slightly "hyper-realistic" look (entirely intentional according to the director's commentary), which emphasises the colours even further - a challenge the transfer is more than up to.

    There are virtually no compression artefacts in the transfer, even when the grain becomes quite noticeable, and there are no film artefacts. The same cannot be said for film-to-video artefacts, as aliasing is a major problem. Virtually all straight edges suffer from it to at least a minor extent, while there are many examples of very distracting aliasing, such as the roof at 27:41. The worst aliasing culprit, however, is the "generals" jacket worn by Roy for almost a third of the movie - every time he moves, the jacket breaks out into shimmering lines. The red bandanna worn by Chon in the earlier parts of the movie is almost as problematic, although fortunately only in close up.

    The subtitles are rendered in what has to be the most attractive font yet presented on a DVD. They are not particularly accurate to the spoken word however, which causes a number of jokes (particularly those of Roy) to be missed.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc with the layer change taking place at 66:04 during Chapter 10. It is relatively well placed, being on a static image with little sound, and is not particularly easy to spot.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer is actually slightly disappointing. Not that it is bad - far from it - but it is simply not as enveloping and enthusiastic as the style of the movie calls for.

    There are six audio tracks present on this disc. The first three are the original English dialogue and dubs in Spanish and Hungarian. The English and Spanish tracks are both in Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448 and 384Kbps respectively), while the Hungarian is in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround at 192Kbps. Next are the two English audio commentary tracks, both presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 (at 96Kbps). Finally, there is an English descriptive audio track, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (at 192Kbps).

    Dialogue is mostly clear and easy to understand, and when it isn't, the fault does not lie with the transfer. While Jackie Chan's English is getting better, there are still times when his accent may cause some people problems. Fann Wong fares little better in these stakes, with a few phrases sounding like others with entirely different meanings ("Forget about it" sounds more like an expletive, while "Wu Chow" sounds more like "Watch Out"). Fortunately, subtitles are available for those who find the accents too much to comprehend. Audio sync was spot-on throughout the movie and never caused a problem.

    The music is a combination of score by Randy Edelman, and a collection of contemporary songs. For the style of movie it works well, although the score component does not quite match up to the grand and sweeping score from the first instalment. To be fair, however, the setting is neither grand nor sweeping, so the score has simply changed to suit the different locale.

    The surround channels are not extensively used. They get some play from score and music, and spring into action from time to time when there are specific ambient noises to carry, but are rarely used for true directional sound effects. This is a pity, as there are certainly a number of opportunities for this that are simply not taken.

    Like the surround channels, the subwoofer is left a little high and dry, not delivering the total effectiveness that the movie has potential for. There are a number of times where it is used very well, but they are virtually matched by the times when it could have been used better. At least when it is used it is well used, and provides tightly controlled backing.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are dominated by the two commentary tracks, but there is enough here in addition to those to make this a nice bonus package.

Menu

    The menu is 16x9 enhanced, animated, themed around the movie, and features Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

Featurette: Fight Manual (9:03)

    Note: This extra is titled Flight Manual on the back cover of the DVD. Somehow given its contents, Fight Manual (as it is called on the bonus features menu) seems a more appropriate title. This featurette covers the Jackie Chan style of fight choreography, and the fact that it takes a lot longer to film a fight using his style of shooting than is typical for a Hollywood film. It is relatively interesting, although those that have watched this type of featurette on the Rush Hour discs (or in fact, virtually anything on Jackie Chan's filming style) have probably seen it all before. Presented at 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Featurette: Action Overload (1:35)

    Presented at 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio, this is a sepia-toned silent-movie style cutting together of a number of action scenes from the movie and set to an old-time soundtrack. Sometimes you simply have to ask yourself: "why?"

Deleted Scenes (28:09)

    This section features 11 "deleted" scenes, although in truth, only one or two do not appear in the film in some form or another. The vast majority are extensions of existing scenes, while the last four are full-length fight scenes including extras that were cut for the theatrical version. The scenes presented are as follows:     All scenes are presented at 2.35:1, are not 16x9 enhanced, and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Audio Commentary - David Dobkin (Director)

    This commentary is only of average quality. Director David Dobkin leaves a number of large gaps, and tends to fall into the trap of explaining the story from time to time. He does also have some interesting information to impart, but this track is probably only for dedicated fans.

Audio Commentary - Alfred Gough, Miles Millar (Co-Writers)

    This is the better commentary of the two, although still nothing spectacular. There are slightly less gaps, and Gough and Millar seem to have a good rapport. These guys know their screen writing, so the things they comment on tend to be quite interesting.

Descriptive Audio Track

    This is not so much as an extra as an enhancement for the visually impaired. To those of us with sight this is like watching an audio-book and can seem something akin to hiring a lifeguard for your backyard swimming pool - not all that useful. To those without sight, it would be far more useful. It really does sound like an audio-book, as a male voice in a carefully-enunciated English accent describes all the action, while leaving the characters voices to them (apart from the dialogue in Chinese, obviously). It is somewhat amusing that the descriptions extend to not only the opening credits, but to the closing credits as well.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Both versions are identical, excluding language differences, in terms of extras. The Region 1 features an even softer picture with more grain than the Region 4, but as a consequence, has less aliasing. If you are someone that is particularly annoyed by one or the other artefact, then go for the region that is better suited to you. Otherwise, there is nothing to tell between them, so buy it where you find it cheapest.

Summary

    Shanghai Knights is an excellent example of how to make a sequel, of how to make a buddy film, and simply of how to make a piece of entertainment. It is good fun, with enough drama and heart to make the viewer care for the characters - a must-see for fans of the original, buddy films, action cinema, and comedy.

    The video quality is quite disappointing. Suffering from excessive aliasing and edge enhancement, some may find the transfer quite distracting to watch.

    The audio is also a little disappointing, although more for the opportunities missed than any problems. It is simply serviceable, where it could have been spectacular.

    The extras may not look extensive, but the weight of two commentaries and almost half an hour of deleted scenes makes them considerably more appealing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Monday, August 18, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-555K, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersRochester Audio Animato Series (2xSAF-02, SAC-02, 3xSAB-01) + 12" Sub (150WRMS)

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