The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
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Combined, both men's careers span over 30 years and over 100 movies, in their native China and here in the United States; that's a lot of kung-pow kicking and punching. They both decided to make their American crossovers around the same time during the 1990s - Chan's first hit in the U.S. was "Rumble in the Bronx" (1995) and became a mega-star due to the "Rush Hour" movies, while Li made his American debut as the lead villain in "Lethal Weapon 4" (1998), received his first English-speaking starring role in "Romeo Must Die" (2000), and earned critical respectability with "Unleashed" in 2005.
Now, we're at "The Forbidden Kingdom." I like both stars. My friends and I, like many other martial arts movie fans, have eagerly awaited this cinematic pairing for some time.
Starting in the present - 2008 - an American teenager named Jason (Michael Angarano) who has an obsession with gong-fu movies is magically transported back in time to ancient China by the long-lost staff of the fabled Monkey King (Li, in one of two roles in the film), where he learns he has been chosen to return it to him. 500 years earlier, the mischievous martial arts master Monkey King had been imprisoned in stone by the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).
On his journey, Jason comes across the drunken beggar Lu Yan (Chan, in one of two roles in the film), who teaches him gong-fu so that he will be able to take on the Jade Army. They are also aided by The Silent Monk (Li, in his other role) and the orphan assassin Sparrow (Yifei Liu). There is one particularly funny sequence where Lu Yan and The Silent Monk fight over how to train Jason to defend himself - with Lu Yan's unorthodox methods and the Monk's more traditional approach.
"The Forbidden Kingdom" is one fast-paced and entertaining martial arts flick that keeps you watching just because of the know-it-all/seen-it-all before charisma of the star talent. With nods aplenty toward the martial arts movies of yesteryear (chiefly old-school Shaw Brothers movies, as well as plenty of helpings of Taoist philosophy and the Jeet Kune Do teachings of Bruce Lee), "The Forbidden Kingdom" is perhaps what Quentin Tarantino has fantasized about so much during countless cinema grind-house outings as an impressionable teenager and later as an adult realized on the screen in his "Kill Bill" films.
But Tarantino is nowhere in sight. Behind this production, is American screenwriter John Fusco (who based the script on the epic story "Journey to the West," which is cited as one of the four great novels of Chinese literature) and American director Rob Minkoff (of "The Lion King"). This production, put simply, is probably the best combination of American-Chinese talent since "Enter the Dragon" way back in 1973. Choreographing the fights with plenty of wire-work and CGI pizazz is Woo-ping Yuen, known for his work with both Chan and Li, as well as "The Matrix" (1999) and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000). It's pretty impressive that although it's fairly obvious that wires are being used in the fight scenes, it doesn't really take away from the action like it often tends to in American features, but actually enhances their intensity here.
I got a lot of enjoyment from watching "The Forbidden Kingdom" and watching the magnificent grace of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Despite occasional script deficiencies, I found this picture working from the opening credits, which was a sure sign that what was about to come would surely satisfy the martial arts movie fan inside of me. For many martial arts movie fans, "The Forbidden Kingdom" may perhaps be the movie they've been waiting for since the untimely passing of Bruce Lee 35 years ago.
A must-see film for this summer!
Did I mention that we get to see Jackie Chan and Jet Li spar!?!
I got to see a preview of this movie and I consider my self very lucky. I will go see this film again on opening day!
It started out slow and it had me all confused when the main character was an American boy but it turns out that they had their own version of the tale. The boy strangely gets ported back inside the story where he meets the characters whose roles are played by Jet Li and Jackie Chan and they set out in a quest to return a staff owned by the stone monkey who was prophesied to end the tyranny of the Jade warlord, an evil general who is the villain in the movie.
The action scenes were really good, superb even. Jackie chan and Jet Li still had their kung-fu in them and it was fun and amusing to watch.
The Acting was good, especially by Jackie chan and Jet Li. (I liked Jet Li's role as stone monkey especially, because he really looked like a monkey) The storyline though, was quite predictable because, Jackie chan movies always end in happy endings. but as I always say: "What you say is just as important as how you say it." Same goes with a movie, though the storyline is predictable, how the story went and how it was flavored with humor and drama and action made the movie much, much better and so worthwhile and entertaining to watch.
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.
The films fast pace, only briefly slowing down near the middle, as well as the accentuating music, breathtaking visuals, and a simple but effective story-line was able to create a fun filled adventure film that younger and older audiences can both enjoy. In the end, however, because the movie lacked well-formed character relationships and any empathy for our group of heroes, the adventure film will beg us to wonder if this was the best that Chan and Li could fester up.
Forbidden Kingdom follows the story of Jason (Michael Angarano), a die-hard kungfu fan and his concussion-induced journey back in time to a mythical China. Jason must return a golden staff to the Monkey King (Jet Li), who is imprisoned in stone under the evil gaze of the immortal Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). Jason meets a silent monk (Jet Li), drunken master Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), and musical assassin Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) who all have a vested interest in the Monkey King or the demise of the Jade Warlord. They accompany Jason on his quest and give him the skills he needs to repel his foes.
The characters are interesting but completely shallow. We're introduced to them as stock. There's an assumed level of familiarity with martial arts movies, which they're directly inspired by, but little more is given than this stereotype. Lu Yan and the Silent Monk profess death threats, engage in playful antics, and display some unknown kinship, sometimes all within the same scene. We like Golden Sparrow because she's beautiful and she's the same age as our protagonist. Beyond an obvious romantic setup, a briefly uttered revenge quest, and a catfight, she's completely pointless. It's interesting that Li and Chan both play secondary characters in this movie, and in roles that are not their traditional typecast fare. Jackie Chan is terribly sympathetic, but by his own undeniable Jackie Chan charm, not on any strength of the movie.
My biggest problem with this movie lies in Jason's story. He's sent to mythical China with more stereotypes than skills, and through truly excessive use of montage, becomes a warrior who can help the Monkey King. I suspend disbelief for fantasy films, but the montages are as repetitive and annoying as the whiny Jason. Since we're so interested in Jet Li and Jackie Chan, why make them secondary characters and give the focus to a coming-of-age quest? My rhetorical question is answered for you in the first sentence of the review. But I think this also skirts the issue of trying to give equal screen time and top billing to the two biggest martial arts stars of our age.
As repugnant as the writing and editing may be, Forbidden Kingdom makes up for this in a good dose of fight scenes. This has some of the best story-to-action ratios of any martial arts movie, hearkening back to the heyday of kung fu, where the story is minimized to make room for more action. Nothing wrong with that! It's still entertaining as always to watch Chan and Li fight. There is one very long sparring sequence and while it's nothing terribly flashy, you do get a sense that the two are very well matched. Some of the editing is sketchy, relying heavily on reaction shots rather than allowing us to see maneuvers connect. Some of the fighting is extremely theatrical and extended, in true wushu style, and beautiful to see.
The visuals have that nearly animated quality, with emphasis on glow and gold, that we've seen so often in fantasy movies lately. Combined with the cutout characters, it gives the impression that you're watching more of a video game than a movie. I like video games, but this is not necessarily a boon. I'd like to see something more original, or maybe something that draws more heavily on Chinese cinema, since the movie already borrows so liberally from those films.
Forbidden Kingdom has all of the good components of a classic action film, but together, these elements work against each other in a big way. The narrative is short, but not short enough. The general tone is more like a poor comic book movie than a kung fu fantasy. This may appeal to some, but dressing up in silks doesn't make this tired thing new again.