Published Apr 17, 2008Forbidden Kingdom is the first-ever pairing of martial arts heroes Jackie Chan and Jet Li. That alone should have you lining up. Guided by a fight-sequence impresario, the affable and acrobatic cast saves the film from its superficial shortcomings, especially a superfluous coming-of-age subplot and a host of unaddressed questions (i.e., why does everyone in ancient China speak English?).
Playing like Back to the Future goes to Chinatown, imagination-taxing bookends import Kung Fu-obsessed modern-day American teenager Jason (Snow Angels' Michael Angarano) into Chinese folklore. Though the fanciful structure could prove distracting, director Rob Minkoff does a decent job of keeping an ostensibly convoluted tale relatively clear, especially with his succinct-yet-thorough myth summations.
In order to save a kingdom from tyranny, Jason inadvertently travels back in time to return a staff to an imprisoned warrior. Subsequently, he and a disparate cabal of heroes embark on a treacherous journey. Thus, Kingdom touches on The Lord of the Rings territory (including Lis temporary Gandalf look) but owes more to Chinese mythology than Tolkien. Of course, the plot is secondary to the action and thats where Kingdom excels.
Angarano, looking like the bastard child of Shia LaBeouf and Droopy, is thankfully serviceable, especially in the combat sequences, but no one is lining up to see his moves. The film belongs to Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Though Li turns 45 this month and Chan is already well into his 50s, the two remain graceful and believably powerful. Both pull double duty, the latter as a Dionysian Popeye (aka the Drunken Immortal) and hockshop owner, and the former as a stoic monk and the frozen, staff-less warrior the Monkey King (get the wordplay?). When they become mentors to the young American, good-natured verbal sparring and educational pissing contests ensue, yet the rivalry is playful without being overwrought.
With guidance from renowned action choreographer Woo-ping Yuen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill and early Chan hit Drunken Master coincidence?), the battles deftly combine classic action and wire techniques. Highlights include the requisite teahouse brawl and the climactic free-for-all but the centrepiece and fulcrum is a dazzling mid-film confrontation between Chan and Li. (Maple)