Directed by Rob Minkoff
Starring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Liu Yifei, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou and Li Bingbing
Heidi’s Illustrious Rating: 3 (worth a matinee price)
Word of Warning: Fairly benign martial arts violence.
I must preface this review with an admission. I am a huge fan of Jackie Chan and consequently, I may not be as objective as other reviewers. This film is not an Oscar-winning epic, nor is it just a silly children movie. “The Forbidden Kingdom” mixes the aerobatic displays of films like “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” with the more whimsical storyline of “The Never Ending Story.”
It is the tale of Jason Tripitikas, an average kid from South Boston who is obsessed with martial art movies. He befriends the owner of a pawnshop in China town where he discovers a mysterious fighting stick. The mysterious stick soon becomes the central focus of the movie, as it transports Jason to ancient China where he embarks on an adventure to return it to its rightful owner.
As in most films of this ilk, “The Forbidden Kingdom” is ripe with gravity defying fight scenes, sweeping vistas of the Chinese countryside, really bad guys (and gals) and a few good guys (and gals). Jason joins up with one of the immortal eight, named Lu Yan, played by Jackie Chan. Lu Yan is a cheerful man who conceals his lethal skills as a martial artist behind funny, drunken antics. Lu Yan is similar to the character Chan played in the very funny film, “Drunken Master.”
Jet Li plays the Silent Monk, a man who has made it his life’s purpose to find and return the magical fighting stick to its owner. Jet Li and Jackie Chan work well together. Li has a more subtle wit, whereas Chan has a more clownish approach.
Horrified to find that Jason “has no kung fu” the two masters teach Jason the skills he will need to fulfill his destiny, which they believe is to return the fighting stick to the Monkey King, who has been turned to stone by the evil Jade War Lord. The two masters argue over how and what to teach Jason, but both adopt difficult and painful methods and the kung fu training scenes are highly amusing.
The band of good guys includes one gal named Sparrow. The Jade War Lord killed her entire family and now she is seeking revenge. The character of Sparrow is pointlessly written into the storyline and she seems to have little relevance to the overall plot.
The last half hour of the movie is cheesy and at times the fight scenes are confusing. In one large fight scene, Sparrow can be seen battling another female character in the background in what appears more like a choreographed dance. It is obvious they are not touching one another as they pretend to fight to the death.
Those of us who enjoy these films have certain expectations: the characters will display super-hero-type abilities, a fight will occur in a grove of blossoming cherry trees (and likely in bamboo forest), and good will prevail in the end. Despite some pitfalls, “The Forbidden Kingdom” delivers what we have come to expect and look forward to in a martial arts film. If you enjoy these types of movies, this one will not disappoint.
**This review also appears in the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor