Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom


Kung fu movie-obsessed teenager Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) gets to emulate his cinematic heroes when he is magically transported to ancient China in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. Pawn shop owner Old Hop (Jackie Chan) entrusts Jason with a bowstaff and a promise to return the weapon to its rightful possessor. The next thing he knows, Jason is no longer in south Boston but in a foreign land.

His first acquaintance is Lu Yan (also played by Chan), an immortal who remains as such by imbibing a special wine. He tells Jason that the staff belongs to The Monkey King (Jet Li), a playful warrior turned to stone almost five hundred years ago by the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). With his mission identified, Jason and Lu Yan set out for Five Elements Mountain to deliver the staff and bring about the downfall of the Jade Warlord and his fearsome army.

Joining them on the quest are The Silent Monk (Li, again) and Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a revenge-driven orphan who refers to herself in the third person. The Silent Monk and Lu Yan squabble over how best to train Jason, but together they sculpt him into a worthy fighter for the battle ahead of them.

A slapdash but amiable crossbreed of THE KARATE KID and THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM functions as a martial arts cinema primer for American youth. References to better films abound, but for any youngster not old enough to be well-versed in the Shaw brothers, not to mention Chan and Li's best works, this is a decent introduction that may encourage curiosity in boys who identify with Angarano's character.

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM pairs Chan and Li for the first time on-screen, yet this is far from an ideal showcase for the top martial arts stars of their generations. Hong Kong legend Yuen Woo-ping choreographs some good fights combining Chan and Li's styles, most notably their temple showdown, but in the grand scheme of things they are relegated to supporting roles despite receiving top billing. Even if they weren't intended to be the primary players, the film could have had more fun with them as they train their eager pupil. Audiences and the stars deserved more than one brief scene of the mentors' differing fight philosophies.

John Fusco's screenplay devotes inordinate time to convoluted backstory that ultimately doesn't matter, and director Rob Minkoff, whose family-friendly filmography includes STUART LITTLE and its sequel, seems more comfortable with the fantasy elements than the action. Still, amid the thin characterization, cliché-ridden dialogue, and uneven presentation of the fight scenes, one's inner adolescent thrills at the acrobatic fisticuffs and ignores the flaws. THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM doesn't live up to its mythic story or the potential in Chan and Li's momentous meeting, but the boys emulating their moves in the backyard will probably think it's cool anyway.

Grade: C+


  1. I agree completely. Though I had described it as a cross between Karate Kid and A Kid in King Arthur's Court.

  2. Anonymous9:00 PM

    This movie is a colonialist fantasy, "The white man (in this case a boy) is the choisen one for save an exotic land". The white boy was put for WASPs who can't accept an Asian hero, just the same way of thinking that make David Carradine the star of Kung Fu instead of Bruce Lee. Furthemore, kids can't watch classic martial arts movies, they are too dark and complex for kids, at least for Americans kids used to edited cartoons and bloodless movies.