The Forbidden Kingdom, starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li in their first film together, is jam packed with fight scenes, ancient Chinese myths and two very pretty girls. The film was not, however, packed with enough of a story to last the full length of the film. While The Forbidden Kingdom is definitely geared towards young men wanting to see girls and fight scenes, there is an element of silliness that the film just can't seem to pull off.
The Forbidden Kingdom centers on a young man, Jason Tripitikas, played by Michael Angarano (a newcomer to Hollywood). He is obsessed with Kung Fu films and Kung Fu culture; he has both a strange obsession with martial arts techniques named after animals and a disappointing lack of ability when it comes to Kung Fu. Yet, with two powerhouse names and talents in Jet Li and Jackie Chan, it's a shame that the story focuses so much on Angarano, who is a lesser actor, a lesser martial artist and a less significant presence on screen.
Throughout The Forbidden Kingdom, the young man is sent on a quest to fulfill an ancient prophecy and free the Monkey King who was long ago imprisoned by the Jade Emperor. Throughout the story Jason meets others who will help him in his quest. Jackie Chan is Lu Yan, a master of many styles including drunken boxing, an obvious homage to one of Chan's greatest films, Legend of Drunken Master. He also meets a young girl whose parents have been slaughtered by the Jade Emperor, Golden Sparrow, played by another newcomer Liu Yifei. Together they help young Jason pursue his great quest.
Later on in the film, Jet Li enters as a monk, as does a white haired witch with sharp finger nails and an angry head of hair.
Throughout The Forbidden Kingdom, there are references made to the great Kung Fu films of yesterday, such as Shaolin Temple and Enter the Dragon. Yet, for a film geared towards a younger generation, for the most part, it's a lost sentiment.
There are some great scenes in The Forbidden Kingdom, including the fight scene between Jackie Chan and Jet Li that most men between the ages of 6 and 35 have been waiting to see for the last decade. Unfortunately, what is billed as a “showdown” lasts a mere ten minutes with no real conclusion. The film is billed as Chan meets Li, and therein lies the great problem with this film. These two legends fighting each other is like a top quality t-bone steak; there's really no need for fancy garnish. Just put the steak on the plate, add some mashed potatoes and call it good.
However, the director, Rob Minkoff, seems to be better suited to his forte of working with animated characters. He directed a masterpiece in The Lion King, and two family friendly films in Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2. Unfortunately, this propensity shows far too often. Jet Li's Monkey King comes off as a Powerpuff Girl and there is about three times as much CGI as there needs to be for a martial arts film, especially one featuring Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The audience craves good fight scenes, and with the two kings of martial arts cinema, this should be very easy to achieve. The director seems to rely too heavily on wires, effects and flying warriors to allow the two headliners to really shine. Even the Jade Warlord played by Collin Chou (who you may remember as Seraph from the second and third Matrix films) has incredible Kung Fu ability and yet it is buried under his armor.
The Forbidden Kingdom does have some redeeming highlights: there are some impeccable fight scenes, interesting scenery and the story ends on a satisfying note. Jackie Chan's comedic abilities are on display and bring in a perfect touch of comic relief. Even Jet Li manages to coax a few laughs out of the audience.
The Forbidden Kingdom wasn't a bad film, but this film suffered in the same way Alien vs. Predator did. All people wanted in AVP was a room full of aliens fighting a room full of predators, nothing more. What they got was two hours of a story no one was interested in and about fifteen minutes of aliens fighting predators.
That's what The Forbidden Kingdom kept doing, teasing the audience with two martial arts champions, yet all we saw were five hundred green armored warriors getting beaten up. Compared to the other movie that tried to merge ancient Chinese myths with western culture, Bulletproof Monk, this film was Citizen Kane, but that’s not saying much.
The Forbidden Kingdom
Rated PG-13. Runtime 113 min. Theatrical release 4/18/2008.
PR.com Rating: C+