Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Forbidden Kingdom

 

Review by Don Hill

A young boy from modern Boston named Jason (Michael Angarano) finds a magical staff that transports him back to ancient China.  He is then charged with returning the weapon to its owner.  This turns out to be the imprisoned Monkey King, played by a costumed, blonde, hairy Jet Li.

Jet is turning into a veritable Eddie Murphy (though not in a bad way… yet) with his work as he plays two characters in this movie, not long after he played three in the movie The One.  Jackie Chan joins him is a not-quite-cameo role of a drunken monk who turns out to be immortal.  He also plays another character in the film, that of the old shopkeeper that gives Jason the staff.  (Do they get paid twice???) 

Once in ancient china, Jason meets the drunken monk, Lu Yuan, who fights off the soldiers attempting to take the staff.  Lu Yan agrees to help Jason take the staff to its owner.  A young girl named Golden Sparrow, played by Yifei Liu, joins them on their quest.  Yifei Liu has never been in anything for Western eyes to see, really but is very, very hot.  (Just an observation.)  From there the story follows the standard fantasy quest plotline of fighting enemies and going to battle the dreaded Jade Warlord who has imprisoned the Monkey King.  And of course, the boy receives training in martial arts along the way.

These films are not about acting, so there’s not really much need to talk about it.  Every actor is good enough to be believable and that is all they need to do in this movie.  This genre is about spectacular fight scenes.  The action and fight sequences are decent although there is nothing here that hasn’t been done many timebefore.  There are some flying fight scenes (a la Crouching Tiger) but not many.  The fight scenes with the Monkey King would be cool if they weren’t so corny with him laughing and making monkey faces (and watching Jet Li laugh and smile is truly disconcerting if you’ve never seen it before, which it quite likely if you’ve seen his movies).

It was, however, worthwhile to see Jet Li and Jackie Chan, arguably the biggest Asian-born martial arts stars in the world today, battle onscreen for the first time ever.  (I felt kind of the same way when I saw Heat for the first time, pairing up DeNiro and Pacino.)

This fight scene is pretty good with Chan’s drunken-monk style versus Li’s traditional Kung Fu.  The two adapt styles several times throughout the fight, pretty much just showing off. 

I enjoyed the movie but it is a pretty generic martial arts genre film.  Generic for any quest movie really.  Kid stinks but has to fight, kid gets training, kid helps beat the bad guys, kid becomes a hero.  Substitute Jason here for Frodo, Luke, Sarah Connor, Neo, Daniel San, or any other hero from the movies.  But still, overall a good martial arts movie, a good way to waste time if you don’t want to think and just want to watch people kicking each other.

2 ½ / 5 stars

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