Movie Review: 'The Forbidden Kingdom'
Playing: Harkins Prescott
Valley 14, 775-2284
Rated: PG-13 for martial arts action and some violence
Cast: Michael Angarano, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Collin Chou, Yifei Liu, Bingbing Li, Morgan Benoit
Plot: Jason Tripitikas (Angarano) is a young man from Boston who is obsessed with kung-fu cinema. He spends much of his time at a pawnshop in Chinatown ran by Old Hop (Chan).
One day, some local gangsters force Jason to help them bluff their way into the shop at night so they can rob Hop.
In the course of things their leader, Lupo (Benoit), pulls a gun and shoots Hop. Hop gives Jason a mystical staff and tells him to flee, and see that it goes to its rightful owner.
The gangsters corner Jason, but before they can attack him the staff pulls him into another realm, a mystical version of ancient China as seen through the lens of fantasy kung-fu movies.
Jason befriends Lu Yan (Chan), a drunken, immortal warrior-scholar, Golden Sparrow (Liu), a vengeance-obsessed young musician-assassin, and a nameless monk (Li), all of whom share in his quest to return the staff to its rightful owner: the Monkey King.
Star Player: Jackie Chan brings all of his slapstick charm to his role of Lu Yan. He essentially reprises his iconic Drunken Master character archetype but adds a little vulnerability and depth to the character. (A little - this is still a kung-fu movie, after all.)
Best Line: Jackie Chan as Lu Yan speaking to Jet Li as The Silent Monk as Li meditates in stark silence in an isolated temple: "Come here often?" (This was followed by no less than 15 minutes of non-stop fighting.)
My Take: The Forbidden City is a godsend for kung-fu movie fans, and a highly entertaining fantasy movie for everyone else. It combines the excellent fight choreography of Yuen Woo Ping with some of the most talented kung-fu film stars alive today. It also has a plot of some kind in between the scenes of martial arts splendor.
The story of a young man going to a fantasy world that happens to be themed after his personal obsession - in this case kung-fu movies - is entirely pulled out of family adventure movie conventions, but it is surprisingly palatable. In part, this is because the movie presents itself in an entirely guileless and unselfconscious manner. It makes no attempt to be hip or edgy, and that somehow makes the various recycled conventions seem more sincere and genuine.
In terms of storytelling, the movie harkens back to fantasy movie of the '80s and '90s, where it assumes the audience is willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride. In fact, the movie is one of the few great action films in some time that is honestly family friendly, despite a heavy amount of stylized martial arts action.
In the end, however, the movie is all about Jackie Chan and Jet Li finally sharing the screen. The movie does not disappoint, as they have a very satisfying fight scene, and fairly natural chemistry. But, admittedly, it's hard to say what the real battle is: Who is the better martial artist, or who speaks worse English?
The movie is a tribute to classic kung-fu of yesteryear, featuring homage to classic Shaw Brothers' movies like the Five Deadly Venoms, Gordon Liu's Shaolin Master Killer, and the works of Bruce Lee. It also pays tribute to two of the living legends of today, Chan and Li. While it would have been nice if they had done this year's earlier in their careers, "The Forbidden Kingdom" does not let fans of either martial arts star down in this pairing.
Stars: Three and a half out of five (four in terms of pure kung-fu goodness).