Predictable but still entertaining.
by Sinjin Jones
Jackie Chan and Jet Li are amazing martial artists; we all know that. However, as the credits rolled on Forbidden Kingdom, I couldn’t help but think that the producers and director may have banked a little too much on that fact.
Forbidden Kingdom opens with the story of a wannabe martial artist, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano, Sky High), who religiously visits the store of an old Chinese guy to requisition new martial arts flicks to watch. By some weird string of events that includes bullies, guns, and falling from rooftops that I’m still not sure I understand, Jason finds himself in a strange parallel universe where he must return a staff (which he got from the old man) to its rightful owner (a monkey guy) so that he can defeat the Jade Emperor and release the world from tyranny. Along the way, he meets his teachers: a drunken, possibly immortal beggar (Jackie Chan), and a traveling monk on a mission to free the monkey man (both tackled by Jet Li).
The most annoying issue with the movie is that I saw absolutely no reason why I should hate the Jade Emperor until at least the middle of the film, and even then it was questionable. Emperors always make examples of people, they always have concubines, and they are always mean to people who disobey; so what makes this guy (played by Deshun Wang) any different, other than his sweet martial arts and Chi power?
The movie quickly falls into a predictable cycle as everything expected to happen happens, and surprise comes at maybe one or two moments in the film…at most. Of course there is a love interest for the young American in Golden Sparrow (played by first timer Yifei Liu). Yes, she saves their lives, yes, she has a secret, and yes she joins their journey. At this point, a mental image may be forming as to how Forbidden Kingdom ends…yep, that’s exactly how it happens.
On the upside, the fight sequences between Jet Li and Jackie Chan are phenomenally choreographed (if long) and they explore a very large array of techniques. As a martial arts buff, Chan’s excellent Drunken Fist, and their exhibition of various forms of King-Fu (Crane, Snake, Tiger, Praying Mantis, and Eagle styles are all present) kept me well entertained and almost distracted me from the terrible dialog of Jason…until the sub-par special effects burned my eye sockets.
Overall, for fans of Jackie Chan and Jet Li (like me), their mastery will not cease to amaze, and seeing Jet Li as a monkey makes this an adequately spent $8. Otherwise, stay away…unless not feeling surprised, entertained, or grown up sounds like fun. However, the plot does make sense and because of its great choreography and adequate cinematography, I would say deserves 5 smilies out of 10.