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The Forbidden Kingdom

A movie by Rob Minkoff

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3 ½ - Stars: "Family-Friendly" Martial Arts Action Film is FUN Entertainment!

  • Mar 21, 2009

Jet Li and Jackie Chan: two of Hong Kong's most renowned superstars. Who would win in a fight? Who's faster and more agile? This question has been in every Martial Arts fans' mind and this project has been a long time in the making, Asian film fans have all but given up on the idea after the little melee in 1995 called "High Risk" wherein Li would play a bodyguard to Chan. It was said that Chan turned down the project because of his character's lack of creative depth, while someone I know who worked with him said it was Li who didn't want to work with Chan. Chan attempted to break into the Hollywood fold via "The Big Brawl" but it wasn‘t really until "Rumble in the Bronx" and "Rush Hour" did he really get noticed. Jet Li stole the show in "Lethal Weapon 4" and enjoyed "Kiss of the Dragon‘s" box-office success. Those projects were about ten years ago. "FORBIDDEN KINGDOM" may not be the best film to have them show their stuff and the two may have their best roles behind them, but hey, they can still duke it out like no one else.

Jason is a young man who is very obsessed with Asian Martial arts films. Most of the time, he spends his time in a pawnshop owned by a kindly old man in the hunt for rare Asian Films. One day, he crosses paths with a gang of bullies who intend to rob the old man. The old man asks Jason to take the staff away from all the chaos and as if by some stroke of fate, Jason find himself in another world, another time. A mystical world ruled by the evil Jade warlord (Collin Chou) who wants the very staff given him by the old man in the pawnshop. Supposedly the staff is the key to power in the kingdom and must be returned to its rightful owner; the Monkey King. He meets up with a drunken man named Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), a pretty young woman bent on vengeance named "Golden Sparrow" (Crystal Liu Yifei) and a stoic monk (Jet Li). Together they challenge the forces of the warlord led by a lovely silver-mane woman named Ni Chang ( Li Bing Bing, Dragon Heat) or perish in the attempt--

The film may be America's tribute to Asian cinema and surprisingly, the film is directed by Rob Minkoff; yes, the same director who gave us Disney's "Haunted Mansion". No big-shot Hong Kong director takes the helm but an American director. Don't worry, at least the filmmakers were smart enough to get the services of a legendary Martial Arts director; Yuen Woo-Ping. The film has a lot of references to Asian cinema, quite a lot that would put even Tarantino to shame. Ni Chang is lovely and looks like a tribute to the Wuxia epic; "Bride with White Hair". While Golden Sparrow is a tribute to Cheng Pei Pei's "Golden Swallow"; she even quotes "Come Drink with me", a Cheng Pei Pei film. The bamboo forest looks reminiscent to "A Touch of Zen" and "House of Flying Daggers". Scenes of "A Monkey goes West" is even seen in Jason's Television screen. I was ready to bash this film until I saw it for what it was; an American-kid's tribute/homage to Chinese martial arts films. Made by someone who loves Chan and Li, who would give Asian cinema the respect it deserves. The filmmakers had good intentions and as an Asian film fan, I applaud them for their ambition.

The film's showstopper lies in its hyper-kinetic action sequences. Yuen Woo-Ping (also responsible for Kill Bill, Kung Fu Hustle) knows his stuff and it is no surprise that he is Asia's premier fight choreographer. The fight between Chan and Li was fairly long and the film's main draw. Sure, the intensity isn't as hard-hitting as the climactic battles in "Legend of Drunken Master" and "Fist of Legend" but nonetheless, it was still masterfully done. Use of "wire fu" is obvious and the fight was well-executed and cleverly choreographed. It was very "family-friendly" as was its intention. The battles with Collin Chou (Donnie Yen's opponent in FlashPoint) was more bloody than the other fights but it still maintained its limits. There are quite a decent number of fight sequences that die-hard fans of Martial Arts films will be at home.

The performances are good for the most part; Li's performance isn't on his "The Warlords" caliber but it'll do as the quiet(?) monk. Chan's character is more witty and sharp-tongued. Chan's humorous appeal helps the film's pace and assists the scenes without any exciting action. Collin Chou's Jade warlord seemed a bit too underwhelming as the villain (the mascara has to go). However, his aid, Ni Chang (Played by Li Bing Bing) is so lovely that she eats up the screen with her whip-wielding, white-haired charisma that will undoubtedly strike a familiar image to Asian cinema fan boys. Sparrow may be the epitome of the ultimate Asian-woman; she has that intensity but maintains a girl next door look. Michael Angarano plays Jason; he may look very awkward and a little annoying at first but his character grew on me after awhile--a little not by much.

"Forbidden Kingdom" does have its share of problems but somehow, it overshadows them. The Yuen Woo-Ping directed fight sequences is the film's main strength, along with Jackie Chan's humorous appeal and it doesn't hurt to have Jet Li around either. The film is a bit too family-friendly for my tastes but thankfully, the filmmakers made it work. The plot is a bit too simple and a little silly but it knew exactly what it wanted to do. Its execution may be lacking at times but the appearance of the classic "Golden Sparrow" and "Ni Chang" characters with Chan's character reminiscent of his "Drunken Master" days and Jet Li as a monk, reminiscent of his "Shaolin Temple" days; the film is an enjoyable affair. I give the American filmmakers credit where its due; they managed to get these two superstars together--something Hong Kong cinema wasn't really able to do.

RECOMMENDED! [3 ½ Stars]

Stallone and Schwarzenegger together?

Ni Bing Bing Jet Li Jackie Chan Collin Chou Chan vs. Li fight the gang's all here

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January 26, 2010
I enjoyed this movie. I thought it was a good family film, and it had a lot of humor to it. Not even comparable to some of the better martial arts films, but good for what it had to offer.
March 22, 2009
I tried to leae a comment before but I couldb't enter it. Let's see if it'll take this one. That's better. It was a great commnet too; witty, insightfull, full of spontaneous brilliance I'll never be able to recreate. Lost forever. Sigh. Anyhow, I suspect that by having the focus of the film on the fid it was easier to get Chan and Li into the film because then they wouldn't have to worry so much about playing second fiddle to each other. In some ways this film reminds me of NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER although it obviously is of a much higher quality.
March 22, 2009
Hi, Karen. I've experienced some instances when my comment disappeared too. I reported it to DesignDude. Anyway, I totally agree with you, neither action star felt like they got top exposure and one was a second lead--the kid was more the focus of the movie's plot which was quite clever in a way, but it sure didn't help the film's cause either. This movie could've been so much better, but hey, at least the two were finally together.
March 22, 2009
Yeah, that's the one thing it had going for it. It was sort of kung fu lite though.
More The Forbidden Kingdom reviews
review by . December 06, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
A kid who's into martial arts movies becomes the unlikely protagonist of an epic struggle between good and evil in ancient China. When the aging owner of his favorite pawn shop is shot by local toughs, he entrusts Jason with returning an ancient staff to its rightful owner. It turns out Jason can't do that without passing into another world, where the ruthless ambition of the Jade Warlord threatens to overthrow a peaceful empire. When he gets there he's way out of his league, and finds help only …
review by . April 09, 2009
The Forbidden Kingdom is a story about a martial arts movie fan who is taken away to ancient China to return a staff belonging to the Monkey King. It's a very nice story. The movie has lots of action and very well choreographed fight sequences. Starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li, this is a very well done movie with a story which will appeal even to those who aren't martial art movie fans.
review by . November 15, 2008
Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):     1. Jason is a Kung Fu movie fan   2. An encounter with an elderly Chinese storekeeper leads to a quest and a golden staff belonging to the Monkey King   3. A fall leads to a trip (or vice versa)   4. He wakes up in ancient China   5. Evil henchmen of the Jade Warlord cause staff problems   6. Drunken Immortal (Jackie Chan) takes over Karate Kid portion of movie   7. The henchmen …
review by . August 25, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Two of the biggest icons in 20th Century martial arts band together for the first time in a great adventure film. We are all familiar with Jet Li's work as being primarily serious and very intense, whereas Jackie Chan's movies tend to be more comical when using his style of Kung Fu. This film blends the two styles together brilliantly in a fun, moving and intense fantasy adventure film.    Relatively unknown actor Michael Angarano plays Jason Tripitikas, a martial arts fanatic …
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Getting martial-arts superstars Jet Li and Jackie Chan together in the same action film is like a fantasy come true, even ifThe Forbidden Kingdomis more of a children's movie than an instant kung-fu classic. Yes, Li and Chan square off in a lengthy, acrobatic fight scene that is a lot of fun, though it can't be what such a scene might have been even a decade ago: careful editing now compensates for the 54-year-old Chan's slower moves and reflexes. Still, Chan doesn't disappoint as Lu Yan, a drunken immortal in ancient China who mentors a modern-day American kid, Jason (Michael Angarano), the latter having slipped into the past while in possession of a magical staff that belongs to the imprisoned Monkey King (Li). In order to get back to his own time and help an old friend (also Chan) wounded by thugs, Jason accompanies Lu Yan and a lovely warrior, Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei), on a journey to return the staff. Along the way, a (mostly) silent monk (Li, again), who has spent his life in search of the staff, joins their mission. He helps Lu Yan train Jason in fighting and adding more muscle to the party as it comes under siege from a violent witch (Li Bing Bing) and pathological warlord (Collin Chou). Screenwriter John Fusco(Hidalgo)and director Rob Minkoff(The Haunted Mansion)have made a slightly chintzy, Western version of a Chinese swords-and-sorcery tale. The gravity-defying, flying-through-the-air-while-fighting choreography looks pretty choppy and ...
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Director: Rob Minkoff
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: April 18, 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: John Fusco
DVD Release Date: September 9, 2008
Runtime: 1hr 45min
Studio: Lions Gate
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