“The Forbidden Kingdom” has two great things going for it: Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Unfortunately, it has little else in its favor.
Our story begins with a teenager Jason (Michael Angarano) who is a huge kung-fu fan. He’s seen all the moves and he buys his movies at a little pawn shop owned buy a very old Chinese man that looks suspiciously like Jackie Chan in old guy make-up. This old Chinaman (Old Hop) shows the kid a Bo staff that is very rare. Gee, I wonder if that’ll be important later?
While riding his bike home Jason gets beat up by a group of laughingly stereotypical punks (especially the “leader”). These punks force him to take them to the shop so they can rob the old Chinaman. Jason’s a bit of a wuss despite having a seemingly encyclopedic memory of bad-ass kung-fu moves in his head.
They get into the shop, and end up shooting Old Hop. He tells Jason to take that staff and return in to its owner. Then the punks chase Jason to the roof then suddenly he wakes up in some mythical land where he meets Jackie Chan 2, named Lu Yan, a wandering master of Drunken Fighting. They journey to deliver this staff to The Monkey King (Jet Li) who was turned to stone by the evil Jade Warrior. Along the way they meet a Silent Monk (also Jet Li), and a girl named Golden Sparrow who has vengeance on her mind because I think at least one person is required to in kung-fu movies.
First off, this script is really predictable. Second, the actor playing Jason turned out to be the kid who played Jack’s son on “Will and Grace”. Holy monstrous miscasting, Batman! And get this: his character’s last name is “Tripitikas”. Yeah, he says it only once in the film and had I been drinking something, I’d have done a spit take.
There’s some really poor dialogue, too, not that you’re looking for the crackling wordplay of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, but sometimes it’s just laughable. And those are most of the laughs in this movie. I was surprised to find so little humor on purpose. There’s one scene I think is supposed to be funny, but who is amused by Jet Li peeing on Jackie Chan’s head? Maybe the 14 years olds at which I think this movie is aimed, but even today’s savvy kids will find this script predictable and kinda hokey.
Oh – there is one scene where Jet Li and Jackie are training this Jason kid, and they keep beating him up. It‘s like a Three Stooges scene. Watching that actor get hit in the head a bunch of times made me laugh. So did the scenes of him training. I SO couldn’t take him seriously.
Thankfully, the action sequences are pretty good. Mostly. The scenes when Jackie Chan or Jet Li are on camera are great. In particular, when they meet for the first time, they fight each other and it’s really fun – two masters at work. There are, however, a few times during large group action that things seem rather monotonous despite that it’s old school kung-fu fun.
That being said, there really isn’t enough in here to recommend this movie, unless you’re a hardcore kung-fu fan. Maybe it’s a rental on a slow, rainy Sunday. Or just rent a classic Bruce Lee movie or even an earlier Jackie Chan movie. That’d be more satisfying.
See you in line for popcorn – for “Iron Man”!
–Neil T. Weakley