Review: Forbidden Kingdom
Plot: A bullied South Boston teenager, Jason (Michael Angarano)-who's obsessed with kung fu films, finds himself transported back to ancient China when he comes into contact with a mysterious golden staff. According to legend, the staff belonged to the mythical Monkey King, who was imprisioned by an evil warlord (Colin Chou) and can only be freed by reuniting with the golden staff. Accompanied by a drunken immortal (Jackie Chan), a warrior monk (Jet Li), and a vengeful teenaged warrior (newcomer Liu Yi Fei), Jason sets off on a quest to reunite the Monkey King with his magical staff.
Review: I never thought I'd see the day- Jackie Chan & Jet Li together onscreen. Kung-fu film fanatics like myself have been dreaming about this pairing for a long time. One would think that any film putting these two legends together would be a sure fire smash. Alas, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is a major disappointment.
To be fair, Jackie Chan & Jet Li are both past their physical prime. Jet Li is 45, and Chan is almost a decade older- so this pairing comes pretty late in their respective careers. While both actors are in excellent shape for their age- one can't help but wonder what a Chan/ Li pairing would have been like 15 years ago.
The big problem with THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is that it's just too minor a vehicle to be featuring such an iconic pair. Loosely based on the classic Chinese tale, "Journey to the West", the film is obviously geared towards a young, western audience- hence the young Western lead actor, Michael Angarano, who gets the lion's share of screen time. Chan & Li are really just supporting players, and the film really rests on Angarano's (weak) shoulders.
Angarano's not a bad actor- he was terrific in SNOW ANGELS. Alas, this is no SNOW ANGELS. Basically he plays the annoying young sidekick- but instead of being a supporting role he's the star. Imagine INDIANA JONES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM if Short Round had been the main character instead of Indy. Over the course of the film, Angarano's character is trained by Li & Chan, and at the end of the film he's supposed to be a badass. This is pretty hard to swallow as Angarano's is actually fairly inept in the action scenes, and he comes off looking like Ralph Macchio in THE KARATE KID.
Chan & Li have both gone on record stating that this film is not for their hard core adult fans, and that this film is strictly intended for kids. That's all well and good- but as we've been waiting ages to see these two masters team up, it would have been nice if the resulting film was worth the wait. It's as if Arnold Schwarzenegger & Sylvester Stallone decided to team up, but instead of making a bad ass action film they decide to do a Disney flick.
As a result- instead of getting Li & Chan making a hardcore old school Hong Kong action film, we get them in this lightweight kiddie flick. While they both engage in plenty of fights throughout the film, all of the battles are totally toned down and really pale in comparison to the recent work of other martial arts megastars like Donnie Yen (who's managed to completely reinvent himself with the recent SPL- known here as KILL ZONE, and the recent FLASHPOINT) and Tony Jaa. The two titans do face off in one extended duel choreographed by master Yuen Woo Ping- but the fight is really nothing special.
Another problem with the movie is that as an American kids film, Chan & Li have to speak English throughout. This isn't a problem for Chan, as his English has gotten pretty good over the years- but Li's another story. While he can acquit himself nicely if he doesn't have to handle too much dialogue, his English comes off rather weak and some of his line readings are painful.
I really hope that one day these icons re-team in a vehicle worthy of their talents. They actually have pretty good chemistry onscreen and they play off each other well. I'd love to see them team up in a really cool Chinese action film where they can take center stage and prove that despite their age, they're still two of the greatest action heroes of all time.
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