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?
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