The union of two of the Kung Fu masters of the last 20+ years is finally here, and even though I would have preferred a more contemporary film, this fantasy grounded adventure for sure at the very least entertains.
We open the film with a strange fighter fighting off a horde of on slaughters above the clouds of a high mountain top, only to awaken with the protagonist, Jason (Michael Angarano), from his dream. After visiting an Asian pawn shop to fulfill his Kung Fu movie addiction, Jason is magically teleported to a feudal Asian land through the power of the Staff of the Monkey King. Jason quickly runs into Lu (Jackie Chan) an immortal of these lands who tells him the back story of the Staff. The gist of it all is the Monkey King was crazy, great fighter that the emperor loved him. The jealous generic bad guy, Jade Warlord, turns the Monkey King into stone before he can stop his power grab as the emperor is on his century’s long meditation. Lu informs Jason that he must return this staff to the Monkey King and defeat the Jade Warlord. The pair is quickly partnered up with a mysterious girl named Golden Sparrow and team up with a roaming monk (Jet Li) searching for the staff as they march on to the Forbidden Kingdom; training Jason Kung Fu along the way.
The films plot is an ok fantasy and doesn’t really give much back story outside what I have given. There are a couple of twists along the way but the film fails to achieve the level I think it was aiming for; from a fantastical stand point. The action in the film is pretty good for the most part. Nothing is so amazing that you have to see it, but it is definitely solid. The stand out fight of the film is obviously Li versus Chan when the mistaken each other for enemies and begin a fight over the staff. The fight keeps the high wire stuff that fills a lot of the film, mostly out of the fight and it is a joy to watch these two go at it. In fact, the action works best when it keeps it real and not flying all over the place. The Warlord’s henchman uses her hair to fight for instance and you are just left going, “what?”
With all that said, the action is fairly constant and pretty good. The acting is also ok, with Angarano getting a bit annoying from time to time, but the teenage angst hero is supposed to act that way to meet is stereotype quota I think. Jet Li doesn’t talk much, but where he shines is as his dual role as the Monkey King that is just so weird and bizarre, but still a lot of fun at how silly Li acts with it all; nice to see him out of his serious shell. Chan does the best job, supplying plenty of humor and handling the “emotional” stuff well enough. But you aren’t here for the acting, are you?
In the end, The Forbidden Kingdom is a solid action fantasy, that doesn’t really add too much to the genre. The action is solid and if you know that the plot is going to be a bit silly and skewed a bit younger then the normal martial arts crowd would be, the movie is a lot more watchable. Don’t expect a masterpiece and I think you will be pleasantly supplied by the silly fun and action of this entertaining pre-summer flick.