April 23, 2008
Review - " The Forbidden Kingdom " (in theaters) - By Roland Hansen
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The Forbidden Kingdom
Directed By: Rob Minkoff (Lion King, Stuart Little, The Haunted Mansion)
Written by: John Fusco (Crossroads, Young Guns, Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano
When you go to see a Jackie Chan movie you don’t expect to witness great art.
You’re expecting to see some kickass comic kung fu. You expect Jackie to give
you some great karate stunts and get smacked around a bit while kicking the
collective asses of some badass dudes. You expect to see chairs, brooms,
magazines, fishing rods and toilet paper to be used as weapons with comic flair.
Rarely do you get any more than that. Plot and character are secondary to
exciting fight scenes and well choreographed martial arts. If you go into “The
Forbidden Kingdom” with this in mind you won’t be disappointed.
In "Forbidden Kingdom," American teenager Jason Tripitikas (Michael
Angarano) is obsessed with Hong Kong cinema and kung fu classics. He finds
an antique Chinese staff in a pawn shop: the legendary weapon of the Chinese
sage and warrior, the Monkey King (Jet Li). With the lost relic in hand, Jason
unexpectedly finds himself transported back to ancient China.
There, he meets Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), master of the drunken fist style of kung
fu, an enigmatic and skillful Silent Monk (Jet Li), and a vengeance-bent kung fu
beauty, Golden Sparrow (Crystal Liu Yi Fei), who lead him on his quest to return
the staff to its rightful owner, the Monkey King - imprisoned in stone by the evil
Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) for five hundred years. Along the way, while attempting to outmaneuver scores of Jade Warriors,
Cult Killers and the deadly White Hair Demoness, Ni Chang (Li Bing Bing), Jason learns about honor, loyalty and friendship,
and the true meaning of kung fu, and thus frees himself.
“Forbidden Kingdom” is the first time Jackie Chan and Jet Li have appeared together on film. Their movie personas are so
completely different. Jet Li is always so stern and serious while Jackie leans more to the comic and silly. Both are masterful in
their execution of their martial arts. Jackie Chan's natural ability for humor and Jet Li's soft-spoken attitude, compliment each
other well. There is a phenomenal and exciting fight sequence between Jackie and Jet when they first meet at the temple.
Drunken Master and Silent Monk battle for what seems like half the movie as they smash stone statues with fist and foot
while they fight for possession of the staff of the Monkey King. It was great to see the solemn Jet Li let his hair down, both
literally and figuratively, as the jovial Monkey King. He actually appeared to a lot of have fun with the role.
“You must learn the ways of kung fu if you are to come with me to Alderon”
In “Forbidden Kingdom” you find elements that are reminiscent of both Star Wars and Karate Kid. A teen boy is chosen to
train in order to defeat the evil emperor. Where have we heard that before? The music during the crossing of the desert
even has the epic feel of Star Wars. Lu Yan and Silent Monk take on the martial arts training young skywalker, I mean Jason.
The initial training sequences are very funny as both Chan and Li argue over their very different styles of teaching with poor
Jason between them getting pushed, prodded, puppeted, and pummeled. The later scenes, with Jason going through his
measures punching bamboo, have music and moves that are straight out of the Karate Kid. You will think you’re watching
Ralph Macchio. All that’s missing is a little wax on wax off, sand floor, and paint fence. The very pretty Crystal Liu Yi Fei plays
the part of his love interest, an orphan hell bent to avenge the deaths of her parents.
This film doesn’t break any new ground as far as acting goes. With the exception of Jet Li as the Monkey King you’ve seen
all these performances before. These are pretty much repackaging of roles they’ve played in the past, Jackie Chan in
“Drunken Master”, Jet Li in anything he’s done, and Michael Angarano in Sky High. For his part, Michael Angarano (Speak,
Sky High), does a very good job as the lost and frightened boy who grows into a man during his journey of self discovery. He
manages to hold his own in a fairly short staff fighting sequence against Jet Li. Very impressive (or very well choreographed).
You wouldn’t expect the director of “The Lion King” and “Stuart Little” to be able to helm a martial arts picture but Rob
Minkoff does a fantastic job of blending the two divergent styles of Chan and Li into a coherent and entertaining picture. The
film moves along fairly quickly from one action packed fight sequence to the next with enough down time in between to allow
you to catch your breath. There are some beautiful panoramic views of China. One particularly memorable scene, straight
out of the Wizard of Oz, when Jason opens the door after first being transported to the kingdom lets you know your not in
Kansas anymore, or more precisely, South Boston. (There are a few Red Sox and Fenway references for those Boston fans)
Jackie Chan returns in a Drunken
Master role along with Jet Li in a more
mysterious but delightful twisting role in
this fantasy martial arts film that
requires a leap of faith into myths,
legends, and magic. The martial art
fights are prolonged and exciting and
the storyline is, although predictable,
entertaining and worthy of an evenings
outing. It won’t surprise anyone how
this movie turns out. Not a classic, nor
epic, not heavy, and never managing
to enter into serious realm of award-
winning, this movie is nevertheless a
summer, adolescent family movie that
is worth its admission price and both
Jackie Chan and Jet Li offer up some
good performances in a movie without
any real failings. Overall this is a movie
that is exciting, fun and generally very
satisfying to watch.