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The Forbidden Kingdom - Great mix of action, comedy and a coming of age story.
The Forbidden Kingdom starts in a way that is similar to The Karate Kid, with Jason (Michael Angarano), the boy new to his local high school who loves kung fu movies, but is helpless to defend himself against the neighborhood bullies. These same bullies force him to help them into a pawn shop whose owner is shot but still passes on a mysterious staff to Jason. The staff turns out to be that of the legendary Monkey King and Jason is transported into ancient China where he journeys to use the staff to free the imprisoned Monkey King. In the end Jason must prove himself as he faces both fantastical and real life foes.
Once in China Jason acquires several companions; Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) a wine drinking kung fu master, Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) a vengeance driven young women and later a monk (Jet Li) who protect him and later train him in the art of kung fu. Together they journey to Five Elements Mountain to attempt to free the Monkey King and end the reign of the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) who sends innumerable troops to stop them.
This movie works on many levels, none too deep, but very satisfying none the less. First of all it is a great action movie with very well done kung fu action scenes involving Jackie Chan and Jet Li, two of the greatest kung fu movie stars in the past couple of decades. In the midst of all of this is a great deal of fairly well done comedy, sometimes not perfectly executed, but generally fun, especially during the kung fu training of Jason. Last but not least this is a classic coming of age story in which Jason journeys from being a boy who fantasizes of adventure to a young man who can fight and suffer for what is right.
This is a fantasy based movie, so expect some magical displays and references to immortal beings, but this is not too heavily done so the story is fairly easy to follow. Refreshingly the movie has relatively little in the way of moral ambiguity, with villains that are really evil and those who oppose them being flawed humans but still striving to that which is right.
In regards to the appropriateness of the movie for varied audiences, the violence in this PG-13 rated movie is never graphic, though possibly disturbing for young children. There is no sexual content with the exception of an implied impending assault by the Jade Warlord (we see nothing actually happening here). I saw the movie in a pre-screening with mostly college students whose applause and laughs made it clear they enjoyed it, but I am quite a bit past college and found it just as enjoyable.
One last comment, while virtually all of the dialogue between main characters is in English, there is a fair amount of Mandarin Chinese being spoken during the movie. In the few instances when knowing the content of this is important there are English subtitles and I did not find the un-translated portions to be an issue.
Overall this is a movie that is exciting, fun and generally very satisfying to watch.
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