Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

Year: 2008
Director: Rob Minkoff
Cast: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Liu Yifei, Li Bingbing

By now I'm sure everyone is all hyped up about the pairing of Asia's top two kungfu stars, Jackie Chan and Jet Li in this film. The two actors have wanted to star in a film together for a long time, and now this is the result. Does it live up to the promise?

Well, this being a Hollywood effort, how much hope can you put into this movie? As good as the Hollywood movie making machine is, it's never good enough in delivering a 100% solid film for either Chan or Li. Chinese actors tend to get stereotyped when given roles in Hollywood. Anyway, lets get to the review.

The Forbidden Kingdom revolves around a magic staff owned by the great Monkey King, who is imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord. The story begins in present day Boston, where a young boy named Jason spends his time watching old kungfu flicks on DVD, which he purchases from an elderly Chinese store proprietor. One night, after being coerced by the town bullies, Jason lets them into the old man's store. Trouble ensues and the old man is shot. The old man hands a mysterious staff (yeah, THE magic staff) to Jason and asks him to return it to its owner. Jason runs and before he knows it, he lands himself in ancient China!

Once there, he finds himself being pursued by the Jade Warlord's army. The warlord wants the staff for himself, of course. Jason then gets rescued by drunken master Lu Yan, and then later by a pretty girl called Golden Sparrow, who's skilful with throwing darts and knives. Later the trio run into a mysterious Silent Monk, who is interested in returning the staff as well. Jason sure is fortunate to have all of them to help him on his journey, but the tough part comes when he has to learn how to fight for himself. To this end, our two kungfu masters spare no leniency in training him. Meanwhile the Jade Warlord sends his top assassin, Ni Chang (modeled after the Bride With White Hair) to retrieve the staff.

Director Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little) and writer John Fusco (Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron) have made this film with obvious references to Chinese tales such as Journey To The West and The Bride With White Hair. The story that they have come up with is pretty much standard fare. A young boy who has yet to find himself, goes through many trials, half of which are comedic, to discover his destiny. Sounds like Karate Kid and Sky High, the latter film also starring Michael Angarano. Direction and storywise, it's not too bad. It lacks originality for sure, and the dialogue is very cheesy. But it works mainly due to the great action and fight scenes choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo Ping.

Chan and Li both do double duty here, Chan as the old man from the store and Lu Yan, Li as the monk and the Monkey King. For the fight scenes, it's no surprise that these two have no equal. They make all their fights look real and superb, and the long awaited sparring scene between them doesn't disappoint as well. It is about 8-10 minutes long, and as exciting as it is to watch, you can't help but feel that it's there just to please the fans, and not to move the story along. But I have to say that Li needs more English lessons, unfortunately.

Angarano is playing almost the same kid he played in Sky High, but he does a decent job. Collin Chou is rather disappointing as the villain, very stereotyped, and his English is even worse than Li's. Liu Yifei is easy on the eye as Golden Sparrow, while Li Bingbing is quite wooden as Ni Chang. Oh, we were talking about English here. Why do the characters speak English in China? Weird. There are scenes when some of them speak Mandarin, these should have been expanded, it would have made more sense.

At the end of the day, it's a nice adventure film that the whole family can enjoy and relate to. Everyone loves the ongoing battle between good and evil. But I do hope that the next time Chan and Li work together, it can be something more meaty and worthwhile. This is an effort that you can't take too seriously or you won't enjoy it.

Fans of Chan and Li will watch it, but they won't call it their favourite. It's an average film, at best. (3.5/5)

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