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FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, THE (director: Rob Minkoff; screenwriter: John Fusco; cinematographer: Peter Pau; editor: Eric Strand; music: David Buckley; cast: Jackie Chan (Lu Yan/Old Hop), Jet Li (Silent Monk/Monkey King), Collin Chou (Jade Warlord), Liu Yifei (Golden Sparrow), Li Bing Bing (Ni Chang), Michael Angarano (Jason Tripitikas), Morgan Benoit (Lupo); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Casey Silver; Lionsgate; 2008)
“If you’re an adolescent boy and kung fu flicks are your bag, this convoluted one is probably watchable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

If you’re an adolescent boy and kung fu flicks are your bag, this convoluted one is probably watchable. For others with some level of maturity, I would advise ducking in order to miss as much of the bogus mythological story as possible while popping up only to catch the outstanding choreographed fight scenes (Yuen Woo-ping choreographed it), and I think you’ll be the better off for what you do see. It features for the first time the two great martial artists Jackie Chan and Jet Li, but these legendary talents can only raise this crappy story up to the ordinary (Can you imagine if they weren’t in it, what it would be like?). It works as a joint US and China co-production (using English dialogue and filmed on Chinese locations and studio sets), with Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King”/”Stuart Little”) indifferently directing this wide-eyed time-traveling fantasy film about the Monkey King fable that transports a contemporary American nerd back into ancient China and into a great kung fu warrior. The dumb schoolboy script is by John Fusco.

South Boston white teenager geek Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) is one irritating character I could have done without in this film and would have surely appreciated the flick more. Jason is obsessed with martial arts movies and he goes regularly into Chinatown to buy from the elderly Chinese pawn-shop keeper Old Hop (Jackie Chan) rare bootlegged martial arts films. Neighborhood teen hoodlums bully the weakling Jason into helping them rob the pawn shop, but Old Hop resists and the gang leader (Morgan Benoit) plugs him. Old Hop in his dying breathes besieges Jason to return to the rightful owner an ancient magical wooden staff he keeps in a back room that someone left there a very long time ago and never came by for it. Jason departs the shop with the staff and the gang in hot pursuit of him, and to avoid them he jumps from a rooftop and wakes up in ancient China (Now that’s a bit of a stretch, even for a magical staff!). When attacked by horse soldiers wanting the staff, Jason is rescued by a wine guzzling drunken itinerant poet/beggar called Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), specializing in a “drunken fist” style of combat. From Lu Yan he learns of the staff’s legend: it belongs to the Monkey King (Li), who was turned to stone atop the mountain of five elements by the evil power-hungry Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). Legend has it that if the staff is returned to the Monkey King, he will resume again his immortal life. While on the way to return the magical staff, they are joined by the vengeance-seeking lute-playing, dart-throwing Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a beautiful young woman looking to get even with the Jade Warlord for murdering her family, and also by the legendary Silent Monk (Jet Li). On the journey, Jason has the two great masters teaching him the tricks of the trade. There’s also competition from the evil white-haired archer warrior Ni Chang (Li Bing Bing), who wants to return the staff to the Jade Warlord so she can get from him the elixir to immortality.

There’s way too much homage to the genre and fanboy fanfare, and even though I was pleased to see the past-their-prime martial arts veterans onscreen together I just wished the film had more going for it than this weak tall story children’s tale and its half-baked nutso comic antics to hang its chop-socky daredevil stunts on.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”