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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 Jay Seaver

"Jackie Chan fights Jet Li; audience wins."
4 stars

I don't know if an attempt to measure such things objectively would actually find that the audience with which I saw "The Forbidden Kingdom" enjoyed the obligatory scene where martial arts masters Jet Li and Jackie Chan pummel student Michael Angarano in the name of training more than they usually would. You'll forgive us if we took a certain amount of sadistic joy in it, though - after all, no-one came to the movie to see him, and it's fun to see the movie acknowledge that.

Angarano plays Jason Tripitikas, a South Boston teen who loves his chop sockey movies. A group of bullies forces him to help rob the shop where he gets his import DVDs, and after the owner is shot, he winds up in possession of a golden staff that fans of the genre and those who watched the prologue will recognize as belonging to the Monkey King. It somehow pulls him back in time to ancient China, where he's told the story of how the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) tricked the Monkey King, freezing him as a statue until his staff is returned. That job's too big for James, but he does meet up with drunken master Lu Yan (Chan), revenge-seeking orphan Sparrow (Liu Yifei), and a mysterious monk (Jet Li). Together, they attempt to reach the Warlord's fortress atop Five Elements Mountain, though he has sent white-haired Wolf-Witch assassin Ni Chan (Li Bingbing) after them.

It is easy to mock The Forbidden Kingdom for casting Jet Li and Jackie Chan in the same movie and having them technically be supporting characters to the American kid. There's probably a line of less-than-ideal compromises that have to be made to get to that point - it takes Hollywood money to make it happen, Hollywood money means Hollywood producers, and Hollywood producers means it has to make money in America, so shoot it in English with a central American character so that the previews don't look too foreign. It's forgivable, though, in part because the movie did, in fact, get made, and in part because John Fusco's script wears its love for these movies on its sleeve. He makes Jason an annoying name-dropping fanboy, but he drops good names. Fusco tailors his script to his cast, giving Jet Li chances to do both quick hand-to-hand combat and wire-fu, while Jackie Chan gets to reference what is likely his most beloved work (the Drunken Master movies) and do his "using whatever is near at hand" shtick. Heck, we got a "Journey to the West" movie when I'm certain that at one point, some American studio exec said "what's all this 'Monkey King' stuff; can't they just be rival cops?"

That's not saying it's a great script; it's frequently sort of awkward, and the Boston scenes feel a little rote. There are great huge information dumps, although I do like the way Fusco and director Rob Minkoff quietly toss the basis for a clever plot twist into the middle of a long-winded retelling of the Monkey King myth. That one bit of misdirection makes up for a story that seems to be cobbled together from several sources. It's worth noting that despite the presence of a time-traveling American teenager, this is probably the sanest Journey to the West movie I've seen; be relieved or disappointed as you will.

Enough about the script, though - Jackie Chan and Jet Li fight! How cool is that? Pretty darn cool, actually. I must admit to being a little worried during Chan's early scenes; combine Lu Yan's bulky hair and more shots from behind than usual, and he could have been doubled as he was in bits of Rush Hour 3. The Chan-Li centerpiece dispels those fears, though; they're both in good form, and Minkoff makes sure the audience gets a good look at them in action. Fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping keeps things going at an exciting pace and does a good job of blending their styles - Chan's drunken boxing is a fun contrast to Li's more violent fighting. The two are clearly having a blast, and that's conveyed to the audience. There are probably a couple places this sequence could have stopped, but the movie lingers on it; after all, this is what the audience came for.

The pair acquit themselves well enough when they're not fighting as well. Chan seems more comfortable being funny in English than in many of his other movies; Jet Li does a nice job of making his character seem human as well as being a testy man of mystery, as well as being surprisingly funny in other scenes. Anganaro sometimes does perform his role a little too well - he's sort of fan that collects and catalogs, but hasn't yet moved beyond that superficial level, and that's kind of annoying. Liu Yifei is a bit tough to get a handle on, since Sparrow is given an odd way of speaking, referring to herself in the third person in a sort of disengaged manner. I wish Li Bingbing had the chance to do more of the heavy lifting as the villain; as much as Collin Chou hams it up a bit, he never seems as ferocious as she does.

I'm glad "The Forbidden Kingdom" turned out to be as good - and as much fun - as it is. Aside from not knowing whether we'll ever get to see Chan and Li work together again (it took a bunch of North American money to make it happen and Chan's not getting any younger), I want it to remind audiences how much fun this style of movie is. Last year gave us the depressing one-two punch of "Rush Hour 3" and "War"; hopefully this signals a return to martial arts stars actually putting on a great show on the big screen.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17033&reviewer=371
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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