The anachronisms fly faster than Jackie Chan’s fists in ‘‘Shanghai Knights,’’ the sequel to 2000’s ‘‘Shanghai Noon.’’
The film takes place mostly in England in the early 1880s. But that doesn’t stop director David Dobkin from having Chan perform a martial arts/ dance sequence to the tune of ‘‘Singin’ in the Rain’’ — a song that wasn’t written until 1929. Meanwhile, one of the minor characters here is a young boy named Charlie Chaplin — even though the real-life Chaplin wasn’t born until 1889.
If these references don’t always make much sense, they still work in the context of the film. ‘‘Shanghai Knights’’ plays out on a fluid, make- believe pop culture continuum. Genres are collapsed and combined. The movie references everything from Chan’s 1980s Hong Kong pictures to ‘‘Midnight Cowboy’’ to Harold Lloyd’s ‘‘Safety Last’’ (Chan and co-star Owen Wilson hanging off the clock face of Big Ben) to Abbott and Costello comedies (Wilson’s character keeps telling tall tales about how he and Chan defeated ‘‘The Mummy’’).
The result is a ramshackle postmodern stew, drunk on its own senselessness. (Forgive the mixed metaphor, but the movie inspires such reactions.)
Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen the original film, ‘‘Shanghai Noon.’’ Considering its so-so box-office returns (it grossed just under $57 million in the United States), I’m probably not the only one.
So why a sequel? According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, it’s because ‘‘Shanghai Noon’’ was a huge hit on video. Disney smelled more cash and designed a sequel that would appeal particularly to Chan’s martial arts fans.
This all sounds like a recipe for disaster — a meaningless, corporate- crafted product. Quite the opposite: ‘‘Shanghai Knights’’ has been made with real crowd-pleasing felicity; there isn’t an ounce of cynicism to be found.
The plot — what little there is — has to do with Chan’s Chon Wang and Wilson’s Roy O’Bannon trying to find the Chinese imperial seal, which has been stolen from Chon’s father. In the wrong hands, this doodad could lead to world destruction. So Chon and Roy head to London to try to outwit the bad guy (Aidan Gillen) who has stolen it.
Of course, this plot is mostly just an excuse to enable Chan’s supple and balletic martial arts action to take center stage. The martial arts scenes here are so expertly edited and so carefully poised between clownishness and derring-do that they represent perhaps Chan’s finest work in American movies.
Wilson is in fine, goofball form, delivering one imbecilic statement after another with the utmost zeal and sincerity.
Forty-eight hours after seeing ‘‘Shanghai Knights,’’ I can’t remember much of what happened in it. But the film is chocked with ancillary pleasures. The shockingly good cinematography bursts with cartoon-bright colors that heighten the sense of a make-believe wonderland (the cinematographer is Adrian Biddle, who was Oscar- nominated for ‘‘Thelma & Louise”).
There is also sharp supporting work from Thomas Fisher, as a detective named Arthur Conan Doyle, and Fann Wong, as Chon’s sister. In the bloopers, which play over the closing credits, Chan calls Wong's character his baby sitter instead of baby sister. Wilson’s reaction alone is worth the price of admission.
Starring: Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson
Playing: Opens Friday throughout the Valley
Rating: PG-13 (violence, sexual content)
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes