An alluring "Kingdom"

April 22, 2008, midnight | By Charles Kong | 14 years, 1 month ago

Captivating Fantasy and martial arts make "The Forbidden Kingdom" a family delight

Chinese martial arts have dazzled Western cultures for decades, and ever since American producers hit the jackpot with kung fu flicks, the public has had a soft spot for Hong Kong superstars Jackie Chan and Jet Li. With "The Forbidden Kingdom," martial arts fans can now have their dreams fulfilled as Chan and Li team up together for the first time ever. Though the action sequences lack the fervor and intensity of previous Chan or Li films, the combination of light comedy and a fascinating fantasy tale make "The Forbidden Kingdom" an alluring piece of entertainment for kids and adults alike.

Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) is teenager obsessed with kung fu films, often renting flicks from a pawn shop in Chinatown. After he is forced to help a local gang rob the store, an accident propels him and an ancient staff back in time to ancient China, where he learns from a drunken kung fu master Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) that the staff once belonged to the legendary warrior Monkey King (Jet Li). The Monkey King, in turn, was turned to stone by the evil Jade Warlord (Deshun Wang). Before long, Jason finds himself on a quest to free the imprisoned Monkey King in order to return home, traveling with the orphan warrior Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a silent monk (Jet Li, his other role) and Lu Yan.

Though the storyline is hardly original - it borrows bits and pieces from classic films like "The Never-Ending Story," "The Karate Kid" and "The Wizard of Oz" - the final product is mesmerizing in almost every way. The only flaw is that this meaningful and captivating narrative is compacted into a mere 113 minutes of film. The legend of the Monkey King is enthralling, and the personality and background of each character is interesting and deep. There are simply so many people the audience would like to know more about, and there could probably be a separate film in the telling for each one.

But even through the utterly short duration of the film, the kung fu sequences are unforgettable. Wo Ping, who choreographed the "The Matrix" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" does an excellent job pitting Chan against Li during one of their fight scenes. The intensity is ever increasing in their graceful contrapuntal kicking, gravity-defying flips and swift, refined punches. Yet at the same time, the presence of Chan and Li on the same screen is deeply potent and respectable – it is truly an treat to see such great martial arts masters fighting against and with each other.

Though blunt, silly one-liners from Chan take away from the profundity of the film, they do lighten up the mood for the 11-year old who may not entirely follow the storyline. Chan is an immensely likable entertainer whose role as a drunken master fits perfectly with his natural comedic style. The contrast between Chan and the serious, respectable Li is all it takes to conjure up a chuckle here and there throughout the film.

Angarano also plays his part well as the confused teenager who eventually acquires internal strength and courage through self-motivation. However, it does seem a little weird to hear him and the other characters speaking English in ancient China. Liu's role in the film is also awkward – though beautiful and elegant, she only seems to be inserted so Jason can develop a love interest in her.

The film borrows scenery from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" but "The Forbidden Kingdom" itself is stalked with beautiful scenery to behold. The sweeping landscapes, majestic forests, heavenly clouds and towering mountains go hand in hand with the enchanting Eastern soundtrack that plays in the background, ultimately producing an awe-inspiring experience.

Because "The Forbidden Kingdom" was intended for an American audience, it may lack the grace and grandeur of its foreign counterparts. But director Rob Minkoff skillfully combines Chinese and American culture without tainting the film's Asian inspirations. With bloodless martial arts scenes and fun, entertaining characters, "The Forbidden Kingdom" presents a tale that will entertain the whole family.

The Forbidden Kingdom is rated PG-13 for sequences of martial arts action and some violence. It is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Charles Kong. Charles Kong loves to play tennis. Actually, he likes to play sports in general. He tries not to procrastinate, but his success rate varies. He likes listening to music and using the computer, and loves Jackie Chan movies. He is super excited for Chips, even … More »

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