Movie Review: THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (PG-13) ****

April 19, 2008

I became a fan of Jackie Chan about eight years ago, when I went to see him in SHANGHAI NOON.  Up until that day, I just didn’t understand why he was so popular.  Then again, martial arts movies were not my thing, having only seen the badly dubbed second rate ones on Saturday afternoon TV as a boy.  After seeing NOON, though, I became a believer, and tried to see just about every Jackie Chan movie that came along.  I even saw the ones that were considered misfires, and found something to like in those.

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM shows us Chan doing what he does best.  One of Chan’s trademarks is to try to tell a story during each of his fighting sequences.  Another is to give the viewers a good and sometimes astonished laugh at his acrobatic tricks.  KINGDOM offers a healthy balance of both.  If his drunken boxing scenes early on don’t make you smile, his lightning speed will certainly amaze you.

Not only do we get treated to the Jackie Chan we know and love, but he’s teamed up with another huge martial arts star in Jet Li.  I must admit that I am not as familiar with Li’s work as I am with Chan’s, but I am developing a liking for Jet Li now.  That could be because Li is so much fun to watch as the legendary Monkey King.  Li’s Monkey King smiles, laughs, and makes wonderfully silly noises as he dispatches China’s threats to peace and harmony, in this case the soldiers of the Jade Emperor (a very sinister Deshun Wang).

Sadly,  there’s trouble in the Middle Kingdom.  The Jade Emperor succeeds in robbing the Monkey King of the source of his power-a magical fighting staff.  Now the Monkey King is nothing more than a statue in the  palace, and the Jade Emperor is terrorizing the countryside.  Peace can only be restored if the Monkey King has his staff returned to him.

Enter Jason Triptikas (Michael Angarano).  Jason is a Boston teenager obsessed with the martial arts (especially kung fu), who spends his time at a store owned by his elderly friend Hop.  When bullies discover that Jason has access to Hop’s store they force Jason into setting up Hop for a robbery.  As the robbery goes bad, Jason spots a staff in the storage roo.  The wounded Hop tells Jason that he must return this staff to its rightful owner.  In case you haven’t guessed by now, this is the same staff used by the Monkey King.  Suddenly jason is in medieval China.  This is whhere he meets, receives training from, and learns the story of the staff from Chan’s character.  Along the way they will meet a monk (also Li) with a few secrets of his own, a beautiful young lady played by Yifei Liu, and a witch who can even use her hair as a weapon, which would be great if she weren’t in league with the Emperor.

There’s a lot to like in this movie.  Some of my favorite moments involved Jason’s training, and the chemistry between Chan and Li.  I wonder why it took so long for these two to get together?  I was also amazed at the aerial fighting techniques.  Yes it’s fighting, yes it can be pretty hairy at times, but it’s also like watching trained acrobats.  It’s just thrilling.  I guess I should not have been surprised that these aerial combat sequences were designed by the same person who did CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.

All of this is under the direction of Rob Minkoff, who was last seen directing Disney’s HAUNTED MANSION.  While Minkoff’s style is definitely aimed at an older audience, he never forgets that Jason is a teenager trying to cope with a bizarre situation as well as his ultimate destiny.  Credit also John Fusco for creating a very believable Chinese legend about immortals, evil emperors, and typical teenagers.  THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is a kingdom I look forward to visiting again



  1. nice job Andy.I think you’ve found a new career!

  2. Thank you Kerry! Comment here anytime!

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