Jackie Chan and Jet Li team for this magical movie that's fun for the whole family.
The teaming of Jackie Chan and Jet Li has been rumored for more than a decade now. Countless reports have announced that it was happening only to later admit that it had fallen through once again. Until recently, most fans had long-since abandoned hope for such a teaming to ever come together.
The announcement of Forbidden Kingdom was met with decisively mixed reaction by genre fans. Finally, Jet and Jackie would share the screen, but the somewhat cheesy-sounding, family-friendly premise was a legitimate worry. As most fans know, even Chan himself has been critical of his American work. Would this just be a Disney-fied, watered-down version of the superior movies Jet and Jackie have done overseas?
Michael Angarano stars as Jason Tripitikas, a nerdy American teen obsessed with martial arts movies. While searching for bootleg kung fu movies at a Chinatown pawnshop, Michael discovers a magical staff and soon finds himself transported to ancient China. His quest is to return the staff and free the Monkey King (Jet Li) warrior from the evil Jade War Lord (Collin Chou). He gets some help from a master of the drunken style of kung fu named Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), a warrior named Silent Monk (Jet Li) and the beautiful but dangerous Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei). As Jason is trained in kung fu by this group of misfit masters, he is quickly thrust into a take-no-prisoners battle to dethrone the powerful Jade War Lord.
The Forbidden Kingdom is directed by Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, The Haunted Mansion) from a terrific script by John Fusco (Young Guns, Hidalgo).
Whatever doubts I may have had about Forbidden Kingdom going into the theater were quickly washed away by a visually and technically spectacular opening battle involving Li's Monkey King. Part Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and part Labyrinth, the scene set the stage for the magical world in which the majority of the movie takes place. Pretty soon my skepticism had washed away, replaced by the magical innocence of my youth and the blissful enjoyment I once found in fantasy adventure tales like Goonies, Indiana Jones and the aforementioned Labyrinth.
Forbidden Kingdom is family-friendly fare and it is PG-13, but in this case that actually doesn't degrade the tale. Minkoff and Fusco have found a way to do what so few directors have been able to accomplish over the past twenty or so years -- make a family-friendly movie that doesn't talk down to audiences or make anyone over the age of 12 slump down in their seat.
Fusco's script is smart and briskly-paced, balancing story, comedy and action in equal parts, never resting on any of these elements long enough to allow the movie to drag.
The Jackie/Jet teaming lives up to the hype. Not surprisingly, Li winds up as the straight man to Chan's lighthearted Buster Keaton-esque kung fu master, but the teaming ends up working quite well. There is one very lighthearted and funny gross-out moment that had the crowd in stitches, but I will resist the temptation to spoil it for you. Rest assured that the long-planned teaming is a very satisfying one. Both actors appeared to have a great time shooting the movie. It's great to see Chan do the drunken master thing once again and Li shows a side we don't usually see as the playfully irritating Monkey King. Not one to be outdone, Chan also plays a second role as the old man running the pawn shop back in modern times.
Michael Angarano succeeds in elevating a role that easily could have sunk the entire movie. He's not the standard doe-eyed Disney kid and you find yourself identifying with his character. He's basically living out any young boy's fantasy and it's fun to watch him thrust into such an amazing situation. Acting (much less fighting) alongside the great Jackie Chan and Jet Li is no small task for any actor, but Angarano meets the challenge head on.
Director Rob Minkoff offers up his best live action fare to date. He's proven he can work with animation as director of the classic Lion King and the popular Stuart Little movies, but hadn't really been able to make that transition to more traditional live action fare. Directing two demanding, larger-than-life stars is a daunting task for anyone, but Minkoff shows a command of the material that effectively translates Fusco's script to screen in a very fun way. The visuals are stellar, the action is amazing and the pacing is right on the mark.
While I certainly wasn't dreading Forbidden Kingdom going in, it's fair to say that my expectations were low. I hadn't much cared for any of Chan or Li's American fare and, looking at the plotline of an American teen thrust back to ancient China, I had visions of A Kid in King Arthur's Court (if anyone remembers that movie) dancing through my head. But Forbidden Kingdom was a pleasure to watch. The Jackie/Jet pairing lives up to the hype, resulting in one of the best family adventure tales of recent memory.