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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.03%
Worth A Look51.52%
Just Average: 6.06%
Pretty Crappy: 21.21%
Sucks: 18.18%

9 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Forbidden Kingdom, The
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by Erik Childress

"Like Its Stars, You'll Need A Nap Midway Through"
2 stars

The phrase “too little, too late” is going to follow around The Forbidden Kingdom like a hobbled puppy once viewers tee up their disappointment at the first pairing of martial arts legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Chan in his 50s and Li halfway through his 40s could have been a blockbuster idea for a pairing yesterday – if “yesterday” meant just a decade ago when each were finally busting into the American market. Now, more gimmick casting than must-see entertainment, the attempt to use them as live-action cartoons for family consumption isn’t the worst high-concept ever conceived. Director Rob Minkoff specialized in animated fare before going the FX route with humans in two Stuart Little features and The Haunted Mansion (which ranks a way distant fifth in Disney rides turned into films after the Pirates trilogy and if you count Mission To Mars as such.) Minkoff, seemingly unaware that he’s in possession of two of the greatest special effects to ever fly across a screen, turns The Forbidden Kingdom into a snoozefest where just because you can’t see the strings doesn’t mean you aren’t aware of their presence.

After some unconvincing battle in the clouds where the filmmakers do everything in their power not to cover up the obvious wirework, we’re taken to the Forbidden Kingdom itself – Boston. There, teenage Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) leaves his room (postered in nothing but martial arts fare) and heads to Chinatown where the elderly Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) sells him bootlegs of such hard-to-find DVDs like Enter the Dragon and The Bride With White Hair. Some street punks, who act like they belong more to Yankee than Red Sox Nation, harass the “new kid” and force him into robbing the old man’s store; a scheme that turns violent and forces Jason fleeing with a magical staff that Lu Yan asks him to return to the rightful owner.

Jason is subsequently transported (in exceptionally lame fashion) to some ancient century where a warlord who looks like John Lone with six coats of eye makeup is doing something bad. He’s saved by a young (or mid-fifties) Lu Yan who recognizes the staff as belonging to the legendary Monkey King (Jet Li), a warrior with serious sideburns who got the Medusa treatment and now resides like the Michael Jordan statue outside the warlord’s non-united center. Teaming up with the waify Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) and moody monk Lan Cai He (also Li), the foursome form a fellowship and journey off to free the karate monkey while getting Jason ready for hand-to-hand combat.

Transcribing back all I could about The Forbidden Kingdom’s plot, it’s easier to just think The NeverEnding Story crossed with the final moments of Heroes’ season one finale. Only Jason is no Hiro and if anyone’s age should come into question as one of the reasons the film fails as such, it’s certainly this roundeye. By casting Angarano (who has been fine in films like the much better family adventure, Sky High, and the superior recent drama, Snow Angels) the film instantly loses its tenability of arguing this is strictly kid’s fare. You need a kid around 10 or 12 to help sell the fanciful daffiness and the glory of a messianic Lord of the Rings triumph. Is some teenager who’s into the work of the Shaw Brothers really capable of buying into a goofy half-simian savior who when not dodging kicks is giggling like a schoolgirl? Yeah, neither are the even casual fans of Chan and Li hoping their one-and-only pairing to be an end-all, facekick extravaganza.

Plotting has never been their strongsuit and The Forbidden Kingdom tries to keep things busy early with three or four action sequences that are notable only for their extreme lack of creativity. Chan particularly, in his faster days (and that includes his early forties), took his fight scenes to a level of silent film grace incorporating any object in launching distance into his routine. Here its mostly just dodge, parry and leave room for exposition. When the two stars finally meet face-to-face 40 minutes into the film, they engage in the one pseudo-exciting moment; a contrived mano-a-mano that gives us five minutes of tempered bliss that we’d take over a million Freddies, Jasons, Aliens or Predators. Except the battle between Jason and Freddie was far more inventive and exciting.

I don’t know whether John “horse screenwriter” Fusco (Spirit, Hidalgo, Young Guns 1 & 2) knew he was writing specifically for Chan & Li. Hopefully it wasn’t a conscious choice to give them as little interplay as possible and even keep Chan on the sidelines and offscreen for half of the climactic battle. Clearly someone is responsible for incorporating little winks such as Lu Yan’s drunken prowess (shades of Chan’s immortal Drunken Master series) and a villainess who uses her flowing white hair as a weapon but that’s about as inside as hockey masks and pea soup to serious genre fans. From The Lion King to the Monkey King Minkoff goes and along with him goes the reverse evolution of the American martial arts epic.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17033&reviewer=198
originally posted: 04/18/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/08/12 KingNeutron A bit stylized and slow-moving, but decent 4 stars
9/30/09 Sugarfoot More Chan/Li and less of the teeny bopper bullshit 2 stars
4/06/09 Chuck Great movie! Full of action 5 stars
1/26/09 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 4 stars
9/09/08 action movie fan silly stuff-waste of chan,s and jet li,s talent-really dull story 2 stars
6/04/08 Jayson Li and Chan together and I still got disappointed. 3 stars
4/28/08 Ole Man Bourbon Good but ran a little too long 3 stars
4/28/08 Margaret Haines Great entertainment. Wonderful fight scenes. J&J show they can act, too. I loved it. 5 stars
4/27/08 Christy good plot line, not real indepth, great old school martial arts action 4 stars
4/20/08 damalc not terribly original, but action scenes are gold 4 stars
4/18/08 Renee It was pretty good, I will see again 3 stars
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  18-Apr-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Sep-2008



Directed by
  Rob Minkoff

Written by
  John Fusco

  Jackie Chan
  Jet Li
  Michael Angarano
  Yifei Liu
  Collin Chou
  Morgan Benoit

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