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Forbidden Kingdom: Movie Review

Forbidden Kingdom Movie Review

General cinema fans will be impressed, but hardcore fans will be disappointed.

Although I don’t usually fall for movie hype, I must admit the hype for the “Jackie and Jet project” was something that I eagerly awaiting for.

For the past few months I’ve been blogging articles about the fabled “Jackie and Jet” project, “The Forbidden Kingdom”, asking myself all sorts of questions, What kind of duel role the two legends of action would have? Would Jackie break the mould and star as a villain? Would the Jackie and Jet fight be a throwback to the fights of the late 80s? Was this “Jackie and Jet project” going to be their answer to Donnie Yen’s superb “SPL” and “Flashpoint”?

For the first time in their respective careers, both Jackie Chan and Jet Li star in this eagerly awaiting movie pairing. Directed by Rob Minkoff, the movie is based upon the classic Chinese fable “Monkey” and is a fantasy-action-adventure movie that takes ideas from Jet Li’s “Hero” as well as the world-wide smash, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

The central protagonist of the movie is a bullied teenager Jason (Michael Angarano), whose obsession with Kung Fu movies leads him to strike an unlikely friendship with an old man, the owner of a local pawn shop; who tells the “tall tale” of a legendary staff/stick weapon fabled to once been held by the Chinese sage and warrior, the “Monkey King” (Jet Li) who was cast into stone by an evil warlord (Collin Chou).

When a local gang shoot’s the old man’s and loot his prized pawn shop, and chase Jason to the rooftops and into the back alleys until suddenly Jason finds himself transported into ancient China and there his adventure begins.

It is from here Jason forms a relationship with a drunk (Jackie Chan), a silent monk (Jet Li) and local girl. Together they vow to return the staff to the “Monkey King” whilst avoiding the many warriors of the evil warlord.

While the movie is enjoyable, and is light-hearted; it isn’t very rewarding for those who are fans of both actors. Although the movie feels big, expensive and adds to the idea of epic fairy telling from the likes of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Hero” and “Curse of the Golden Flower”; it feels like the movie was made for everyone, and yet targeted to no-one.

One of the flaws of this movie was that it was clearly a “Kids” movie that has been marketed to an International audience. This means that the main actors have to speak in a non-native English. If I were directing this movie I would have kept it in Mandarin/Chinese language and subtitled it.

The biggest flaw in the movie is that the fight between Jackie Chan and Jet Li was a fight over an object, a “MacGuffin” as they say in movie circles; it wasn’t really against each other. In addition, the end fight was not two-vs-one (as I really hoped), but Jet Li vs Collin Chou. This really hurt the movie, and a two-vs-one finale should have been put in.

The jewel in the crown within “Kingdom” is the on-screen pairing and inevitable face-off between Chan and Li, but unfortunately their on screen moments are boiled down to them speak in a non-native English and standing around not actually doing much; which I found strange because both actors have been in movies where break-neck speed action have been integral to their respective successful careers.

Another thing I found really striking is the resemblance to the 1984 movie, “The Never-ending Story”. When I compared the movies again I noticed that;

  • Both have a bullied boy who have befriended a person and learns of a secret, (ie: book/staff)
  • Both have the bullied boy involved in the story that we watch
  • Both have the ending where the “story never really ends as its passed to you”

My main frustration with this movie is that we’ve been waiting almost for years for a pairing and on-screen fight between Jackie and Jet, and whilst the result is a sweeping epic story with a solid foundation in Chinese folklore, I feel what we got was an artificial, almost Hollywood version of what we could have gotten. In retrospect, it was a marketing/branding mistake bloated by a Hollywood director eager to make a movie to make everyone happy, and yet; in the end add nothing to the respective careers of either actor, leaving the viewer/audience deeply with an unrewarding cinematic experience.

Overall: 5/10.