The dream of Jackie Chan and Jet Li teaming up has been swimming in the heads of film geeks for years. Both are martial arts masters, but both also have vastly different demeanors. Chan has always been a fan favorite as the everyman who is always caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Li is almost always stone-faced and dead serious. While The Forbidden Kingdom may be far from what die-hard fans will be looking for, it’s nevertheless an above-average piece of escapist entertainment for kids and adults alike.
We meet Jason (Angarano) as the film opens. He’s a kung-fu film aficionado and often rents his flicks from a pawn shop in Chinatown. While visiting one day, Jason discovers an ancient golden staff. As it turns out, the staff once belonged to the Monkey King (Li), a legendary warrior. Before long, Jason finds himself transported back to ancient China in a quest to free the Monkey King, who is now imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord (Chou). Along for the ride are Lu Yan (Chan), a drunken master, Golden Sparrow (Liu), an orphan whose family was killed by Jade, and The Silent Monk (Li, in dual roles).
The story is nonsense, but that tends to happen when three quarters of your movie is fight scenes. The Forbidden Kingdom is a beautiful film to watch, and the fight scenes are plentiful and entertaining. Tongue is always planted in cheek as characters defy gravity and take on countless enemies. Screenwriter John Fusco crafted his script around the battles and appears to have spent most of his time thinking up one-liners for Chan. It works on the base level that it needs to.
Chan is an effortless entertainer and immensely likable. He riffs on his Drunken Master character with ease throughout The Forbidden Kingdom, and his chemistry with Michael Angarano is solid. Jet Li is given less to do, though he does go against his stone cold persona as the Monkey King. Li fans deserve to check this film out if only for that. He and Chan make for a quality duo, and you have to love how their big battle has absolutely nothing to do with the story.
The Forbidden Kingdom knows its audience and plays right up to it. There is plenty to entertain everyone and it never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. Honestly, how could anyone take this stuff seriously, anyway? Chan and Li both deliver in their own unique ways, and there’s enough action and humor to satisfy even the less enthusiastic martial arts fans out there.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of martial arts action and some violence.
Theatrical Release: April 18, 2008
Directed by: Rob Minkoff
Written by: John Fusco
Cast: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Liu Yifei, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Li Bingbing