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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 Peter Sobczynski

"The World Of Martial Arts Gets Its Own "City Heat"
1 stars

“The Forbidden Kingdom” is a martial-arts epic that marks the first big-screen match-up between Jackie Chan and Jet Li, arguably the two most popular and influential performers in the genre in the post-Bruce Lee era. On first glance, it sounds like such a natural combination—the cinematic equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup—that fans of the two are likely to go rushing off to see the film without realizing a couple of things that might dampen their enthusiasm. The first is that while both Chan and Li are presumably spryer and more agile than you or I, the simple fact is that both of them are somewhat past their physical prime and seeing them in action now is obviously not going to be the kind of thing that it might have been had it been done maybe 15 years ago. The other is the inescapable fact that both Chan and Li have developed deeply entrenched screen personas over the years—Chan is the amiable charmer who generally goes into battle only to defend himself and puts himself through the kind of simultaneously hilarious and breathtakingly dangerous stunts that might have given the legendary Buster Keaton pause while Li usually depicted himself as the kind of quietly savage brute who enjoyed getting into savage brawls and really enjoyed inflicting as much pain and damage as possible—and while these approaches work perfectly well on their own, they don’t really seem as if they would be readily compatible within the confines of the same story. Alas, in order to try to construct a film that would somehow combine these two unique talents, the people behind “The Forbidden Kingdom” have inexplicably chosen an approach that serves both of them badly and the result is an unconscionably dull, thrill-free and utterly soulless product that is too childish for Jet Li fans, too violent for Jackie Chan supporters and will only unite the two factions in a shared sense of utter disappointment at the sight of such a promising set-up gone horribly awry.

The film opens by introducing us to Jason (Michael Angarano), a dorky Boston teen who is obsessed with anything to do with martial arts. One day, while visiting the Chinatown shop of the aging Old Hop (Chan in unconvincing old-age drag)to pick up some kung-fu DVD’s (including a bootleg of “Enter the Dragon”—was there something wrong with the lavish and legal two-disc edition on the market or is it because that is one of the few kung-fu titles that is sure to be recognized by the mass moviegoing audience?), Jason stumbles into a back room and discovers an ancient golden staff that Old Hop explains was left in his possession many years ago to hold onto until the person it belongs to returns to claim it. While returning home, Jason runs afoul of some bullies who mock him for his fondness for martial arts (which is funny since they look like refugees from a stage version of “Grease 2”) and when they discover that he bought stuff from Old Hop, they naturally assume that he is in tight with the old man and force him to take them to the shop so that they can rob him. Mustering all of his backbone, Jason immediately agrees and while the punks ransack the place looking for money, the lead tough shoots Old Hop for no apparent reason.

Before shuffling off this mortal coil, Old Hop gives Jason the staff and makes him promise to return it to the rightful owner and when the punks give chase, he falls off of the roof and when he comes too, he finds himself in an ancient Chinese village. Luckily, this is one of those ancient Chinese villages where everyone speaks English and no one wonders why some Occidental tourist has suddenly appeared out of thin air. Before long, Jason is nearly abducted by some nasty-looking types and is saved at the last minute by drunken warrior poet Lu Yan (Chan again). Lu Yan informs our hero that his attackers were the followers of the loathsome Jade Warlord (Collin Chou), a power-hungry monster who usurped the land from the benevolent emperor when he went on a 500-year holiday and turned the only person who could stop him, the playful-but-powerful Monkey King (Li), into a stone statue. It turns out that the staff is a magical bit of hardware belonging to Monkey King and the only that Jade Warrior can be defeated and the emperor can return to his rightful place is if it is returned to him. Naturally, there is also a prophecy that says that some logy twerp from Boston will one day emerge to save the day and so Jason and Lu Yan, aided by the masterful fighter Silent Monk (Li again) and babelicious Sparrow (Yifei Lee), a spirited lass whose beauty and skill are unfortunately offset by her annoying insistence on always speaking in the third person, set off to fulfill that destiny. Along the way, they try to overcome such perils as a white-haired assassin, thousands of the Jade Warrior’s soldiers and, most dangerous of all, the rapidly waning interest of the audience.

There are lots of problems with “The Forbidden Kingdom,” of course, but there are two especially egregious ones that pretty much sink the entire film all on their own. The first one is perhaps the most obnoxious and that is the bizarre decision to take a perfectly sound ancient Chinese epic and stick a dumb contemporary American kid into the proceedings. On the surface, I can probably understand why screenwriter John Fusco (the man who penned the deathless words that eventually resulted in “Young Guns”) made this decision—by sticking an American teen into the proceedings, it serves to presumably “broaden” the appeal of the story to attract kids who presumably won’t attend any film unless it contains a surrogate for them somewhere in the narrative. Of course, one could argue that a film like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” told a story that was set in ancient China and it managed to attract a wide audience despite not including any American actors or, for that matter, Asian characters speaking in English. Then one could argue that even if such an approach had to be implemented, surely it could have inspired a character more interesting than the mopey twerp that we have been stuck with here, a guy who thinks nothing of boring his would-be love interest (and everyone watching him) with talk of Fenway Park—granted, this isn’t the first time this has happened but in most of the other cases, the poor girl has usually heard of Fenway Park or at least knows what this thing called baseball is. Finally, one could argue that even if they did have to include this character and that they had to make him such a colorless twerp, they could have at least tried to come up with an ending in which he somehow manages to save the day.
That said, I suppose I would love to have a recording of the script conference in which it was decided that the best way for a movie co-starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li to conclude was for the pesky round-eye to come in and save the day for everyone.

The second flaw is that having finally managed to lure Jackie Chan and Jet Li into the same project after years of rumors and false starts, the makers of “The Forbidden Kingdom” seemed to have had absolutely no idea of how to deal with their unexpected coup. You might assume, for example , that such a film might pit the two of them as adversaries whose battle scenes would have an added edge in the fact that we in the audience would know that for once, each one was finally facing a more-than-worthy adversary. (Yes, I know that Chan and/or Li, or at least their fans, might not look favorably upon a film in which one of them was soundly defeated by the other but as anyone who saw “Freddy Vs. Jason” can attest, these things can always be finessed so that everyone walks away happy.) In fact, when the two first me, they do get involved with a skirmish and while the results won’t exactly erase memories of such kung-fu classics as “Fist of Legend” or “Drunken Master 2,” the sight of the two going one-on-one does momentarily breathe life to the proceedings. Alas, perhaps realizing that his film is flirting with becoming interesting, director Rob Minkoff (whose background of directing films like “The Lion King” and “Stuart Little” hardly seem like the proper resume for the man entrusted with bringing Chan and Li together for the first time) quickly backs away from these possibilities by quickly turning them into allies whose only future jousts with each other are verbal instead of physical. That said, I suppose I would love to have a recording of the script conference in which it was decided that the best way to deal with having Jackie Chan and Jet Li appearing in the same movie would be to have them spend the majority of their shared screen time trading dialogue instead of blows.

Then there are the other, smaller errors in judgment that transform “The Forbidden Kingdom” into perhaps the most disappointing thing to happen to Jet Li and Jackie Chan since Miramax bought the rights to many of their films in the late 1990’s and then brutally recut them, even more brutally redubbed them and then gave them only the most perfunctory theatrical distribution imaginable. There is the fact that after establishing its hero as a true devotee of martial-arts films in their purest state (he revels when he discovers that a DVD contains no subtitles), it plunges him into the kind of movie that he himself would no doubt heartily disparage. There is the inexplicable decision on Jet Li’s part to adorn his Monkey King character with the kind of flouncing mannerisms and high-pitched giggle that will no doubt remind most viewers of no one so much as they do Michael Jackson—a fearsome presence, no doubt, but not quite the kind you would expect to find here. There is the equally inexplicable decision to entrust the majority of the film’s exposition to Jackie Chan, a performer whose grasp of the English language, while far better than my own handle of Mandarin and Cantonese, remains questionable at best. Then there is the groaner-amongst-groaners moment when Jet Li is forced to actually advise our rotten young punk hero with that favorite chick-movie aphorism, “Don’t forget to breathe.” That said, I suppose I would love to have a recording of the script conference in which it was decided that it would be a good idea to have a character played by Jet Li actually say “Don’t forget to breathe.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17033&reviewer=389
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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