REVIEW: “Forbidden Kingdom”

Posted: May 9, 2008 by V in Review
Tags: , ,

(This is a movie that stars Jet Li and Jackie Chan. The two biggest martial arts movie stars to come out of the orient in the last 30 years. Together. Does it honestly matter what the movie is about? Please, people, let us all admit that we’re all here to see one thing — SHOWDOWN! -v)

Summer has officially begun in my book, and it looks like I’m trying to accrue overtime to make up for my inevitable absence in the later months. Getting to it, alright, I admit, I went to the movie theatre to see “Iron Man” and in the entryway was a giant poster board divided into fifths. I was sold at “Jet Li”, I heart Jet Li. But, this display was like the action portrait shots of all the video game characters you’ve ever wanted to be. Well everything except for the lone ethnic minority — useless white kid. It isn’t the the display I saw, but this official poster will have to suffice.

Rampant abuse of the ” mark ahead.

I’m going to come right out and just say what this movie primarily suffers from, a single issue that mars what could be a great movie. That is the simple fact that just too many characters in this film aren’t Jackie Chan or Jet Li. I would say that this movie would have been far more bitchin’ if there had been a mere 30% more Jet Li or Jackie Chan, I’m going to be generous and add the witch (image here being 1/5 of that awesome poster) to that increase in “bitchin’-ness” — suggestions and advice I’m dolling out for free here.

For better or worse, the main character is a spineless high school dweeb who is into kung fu movies, he seems to suffer from a terminal case of “wha-?” face, and his only friend is an old Chinese guy who runs a shady pawnshop. He gets bullied by a gang that is best described as “Westside Story”, who seem bizarrely convinced that he is their meal ticket into the inconceivably wealthy innards of before mentioned rickety old pawn shop. Now, pardon me for my skepticism, but when I shove a kid off a bike and rifle through his belongings, I don’t automatically assume that the kid is “tight” with the shopkeep just because he made some purchases and was given a plastic bag. But maybe I’ve been missing out on some easy cash, ’cause it totally worked for them.

This mini gang headed by a “cholo” with the most unidentifiable accent I’ve ever heard, somehow holds our hero dweeb hostage until dark, and then bullies him into a night time visit to his friend the shopkeep. I don’t know how the background “gang” kept themselves from snapping their fingers and walking in step, but I’m proud to report they managed to hold it back to an acceptable early-90’s-high school-misfit-movie-level. Somewhere along the lines of “The Mighty Ducks”, “Airborne”, and “Karate Kid”. After totally betraying his only friend, things lead to other things and hero-dweeb is sent back in time and space with the golden staff of the Monkey King.

General American audiences at this time will probably groan at the cheesiness of “the Monkey King” but I assure you, Asia totally digs him. He is like Superman, Merlin, and Huckleberry Finn all rolled up in one. The Monkey King is the icon of China (who lays claim to the original). No one in the whole of Asia doesn’t know who the Monkey King is. Hopefully that should explain the bewildering skip-ery of the mythological back story and the cheeky furry version Jet Li in blonde. For anyone interested in Asian cinema, those scenes were chock full of classic Monkey King moves, and so I must say, how cute is Jet Li?

Our shame-of-Boston idiot lands in ancient fantasy China with the staff and is rescued by Jackie Chan, the perpetual drunk. It’s cool everyone, he totally did this in “Drunken Master”. Chan explains the backstory of the Monkey King, and of how the Jade Warlord underhandedly tricked him and turned him into stone, only to be released by “the traveler” of prophesy who will bring back his staff and release him from his imprisonment. Some pretty good fight scenes set in the inn. Its not set in China if there isn’t a fight in an inn. And they are joined by “girl driven only by the desire to avenge her dead parents” ™, who joins their side and brings transportation as they all ride off towards their final destiny destination whatever.

Dweeb knows no kung fu, so Chan tries to teach him. Amusement happens as things are hit with a stick. Abuse Training is rightly heaped upon worthless “chosen” one. This should tide everyone over until Jet Li arrives. He’s been out on his lone quest to find the staff for most of his life, having spotted it, he wastes no time snatching it out of the hands of hero-dork and riding off to meditate in the ruins of a nearby monastery.

If I could recommend watching a movie purely on the basis of one scene, it would be this flick. Jackie Chan vs Jet Li. Its on. It is a rare and precious thing when movies have actors that can actually fight, and they did a hell of a job. At the level and speeds of Chan and Li? Amazing to watch. Worth it for that one scene if nothing else.

In the words of Jackie Chan: “The storyline is very absurd, yet could be created in the West. Though to me, it’s extremely ludicrous, but the US audience can accept it, so I shot it according to the script.”

From the mouth of Jet Li: “This is a film in which you bring a big cup of popcorns and watch with kids, see how this group of people get into fights everywhere in order to rescue Monkey King”

I love how Jackie Chan and Jet Li took a look at this scrip and went: “Uh…What? Well, I guess I have wanted to film a movie with Jackie/Jet…Um, why not! Western audiences totally love bad movies! Keep that in mind Asia! We totally told you its going to be awful!”

Final Score: Three out of five bullets. By the stars’ own admission, no one is going to watch this movie for class, deep emotion, Chinese culture, or an underlying theme. This movie is made for zoning out, stuffing yourself with sugar, and enjoying the kick-ass fight sequences. I’d have given it a better rating had it not been for the non-Asian cast. How did they manage to cast everyone else decently (with the exception of Sparrow, resident eye candy love interest), when every single native English speaker was so terrible? Attempt to ignore the official introduction and the official ending (both featuring whathisface), and although still cheesy and Saturday morning cartoonish, happiness through the sweet glory of martial arts can still be yours. Its all about selective attention.

Incidentally, I’m going to take this time to boldly announce that America should stop making Jet li and Jackie Chan speak English. Both of them are solid actors (in their native language), but their English does nothing to convey this. The dialog of “Forbidden Kingdom” cheesy and poorly delivered. If this movie could be redone entirely in Mandarin with subtitles, it would have been much better. Jet Li, I love you, but there is a reason you don’t speak in English much. The entire movie would have been smother and less stilted had the actors been allowed to speak entirely in Chinese (for proof see the Chan and Li argument). It would have been even better if the segments involving that idiot savant were deleted, and replaced with title cards.

PS. More fighting please.

IMDB summary claims “…Jason learns about honor, loyalty and friendship, and the true meaning of kungfu, and thus frees himself.”

Last word.: What is that even supposed to mean? No, really. I don’t get it.

  1. Susana says:

    “I don’t know how the background “gang” kept themselves from snapping their fingers and walking in step, but they managed to hold it back to an acceptable early-90’s-high school-misfit-movie-level.”
    I’ll review something soon, I promise! My parents are coming up tomorrow afternoon and I’m leaving Tuesday, so it’s kind of hectic.

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