Anthony's Film Review
The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
Jackie Chan and Jet Li collaborate for the first time in this exciting martial arts visual spectacle...
The Forbidden Kingdom is essentially a combination of Jackie Chan movies, Jet Li movies, and the Karate Kid movies. Now, a formula like this could go in any direction depending on how it's written and directed. This movie fortunately goes in the right direction. It's quite good as a result. There are plenty of reasons for this. I'm not just talking about how it has two major stars in martial arts cinema be on film together and for the first time.
I'm also talking about how the film handles the fish-out-of-water plot. A Boston teenager named Jason (Michael Angarano), who is obsessed with martial arts films, sees a legendary staff in a local Chinese pawn shop. During an intense situation, he escapes with the staff and is magically transported to mythical China. The first thing I like about this is how the movie begins with just three scenes in modern America. There's absolutely no need to give this character a backstory or a description of his everyday life. Second, there is little humor related to cultural clashes that could potentially ruin the film. When Jason is in China, he is simply a young boy who has much to learn, regardless of his foreign appearance. It would be no different if he were a local Chinese native.
Jason meets Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), a scholar who tells the boy about the significance of the staff. It once belonged to the Monkey King, a powerful fighter who also has a playful nature. During a fight with the Jade Warlord, the Monkey King's staff disappeared as he is turned into stone. It is clear that they must journey to return the staff to the Monkey King while facing adversaries like the Jade Warlord and a white-haired witch. Joining them is the Silent Monk (Jet Li) and a young woman called the Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), who has an agenda of her own.
The action scenes are spectacular and are just what you would expect from a Jackie Chan movie, a Jet Li movie, or any martial arts film involving top-notch choreography. They are more concentrated in the beginning and end, leaving the middle more for drama and plot development. There is some humor, but other than an unexpectedly funny laugh for a scene involving a rain spell, the humor is not the main element. And even though Jackie Chan and Jet Li prominently occupy the poster for this movie, they are not the only fighters. The Sparrow is a fighter herself, and, as time goes on, Jason becomes skilled enough to also get involved.
The Forbidden Kingdom is not really a Jackie Chan movie co-starring Jet Li or vice versa. The movie works because all of the main characters, both good and evil, are stars with plenty of screen time. On top of this, the Chinese mythology makes the plot, setting, and everything worthwhile. Again, the story is not a fish-out-of-water satire. It really feels like a truly mythical tale. The Forbidden Kingdom may not have brilliantly original surprises, but it sure is a fun-filled ride with plenty of spectacular eye candy.
For more information about The Forbidden Kingdom, visit the Internet Movie Database.