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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
- Feature commentary
- “Making of” featurettes
- Digital Copy
- Blooper reel
Everybody is kung foooo fightin’!
Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Yifie Liu, Collin Chou
Jason Tripitikas (Angarano) loves karate movies. He loves them so much that he spends most of his time hanging out in a Chinese pawn shop, badgering the kindly old owner for new titles to fill his collection. All is well until Chinatown bullies force him to help in a robbery attempt on the elderly man’s shop. Jason sees no way to object, for fear that he himself will be beaten up by the bad guys. During the robbery, the old man is shot, but before he becomes completely incapacitated, he hands Jason a golden staff and tells the boy that it must be returned to its rightful owner to set things straight. All this is a bit much for the young man and he passes out. But when he awakens, he’s not in Chinatown anymore.
He has been magically transported to a mythical Chinese land where he meets Old Hop (Chan), a master of the drunken-fist technique of karate. Hop explains to Jason the importance of the weapon he is carrying. It turns out the magical staff is the property of an immortal figure known as the The Monkey King (Li), who, during a fight with the evil Jade Warlord (Chou), was tricked into giving up his weapon and turned into stone, but before turning into a statue, The Monkey King managed to send the staff flying off into Jason’s world. Now the two must team up, find The Monkey King, and do their part in restoring order to the land.
Since the release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it seems that epic karate movies have enjoyed a bit of a rebirth, what with films like Hero and Curse of the Golden Dragon proving that kung fu pictures can be more than a lot of kicking and punching, but real artistic affairs that hark back to the days of the Shaw Brothers best work. The Forbidden Kingdom continues the tradition while making the genre a bit more kid friendly in the story department. It also has both Jackie Chan and Jet Li teamed up for the first time to fight some bad guys.
Having not followed the careers of these two Asian superstars takes away some of the impact of them being together on screen, but their first meeting, which involves a wildly choreographed fight (courteously of Woo-ping Yuen, who also choreographed fight scenes for most of the movies you love) in an ancient temple, is a thrill to watch. Chan and Li may be getting a little old for some of the strain that karate can take on the body, but it doesn’t show. The editing helps to make all their moves seem swift and graceful, but there are long stretches in this fight sequence where you know that it isn’t just the cuts that makes the two of them so fun to watch. Add to that a lot of flying around the frame on wires and you have one of the more dazzling film fights in recent memory.
Now the two of them when they aren’t fighting; that’s a bit of a mixed bag. Both actors play dual roles. Chan plays the old shopkeeper as well as the drunken master Old Hop, and he does admirably in each role, but as the old man, it is hard to really understand what Chan is saying. As Old Hop, The veteran action star shows why he has been able to sustain a career in America. He’s like an everyman on screen, always astonished at what is happening around him, but having the scrappiness to get through it. Jet Li as The Silent Monk who has been searching the land for the golden staff for years, does all right, but he is completely outshined by himself when he shows up as The Monkey King. If anyone were to make a sequel to this movie, just give me more tales of The Monkey King. Maybe it’s just rare to see Jet Li look like he is actually enjoying himself in a movie, but whatever it is he shines as this character.
Michael Angarano does fine as the socially awkward kung fu fan turned karate fighter. He bridges the story between the real and fantasy world well, and again with the help of some crafty editing, keeps the fight scenes that he is involved in from seeming clunky. Yifie Liu holds her own against the men of martial arts as The Golden Sparrow, a young woman who also has a debt to settle with the evil warlord. Angarano and Liu are paired up in the movie to give that whole boy gets the girl vibe, but in keeping with the movies overall light tone, we never get to that icky kissy action.
And that is where the movie gets its best marks. The story is breezy enough to overcome any real obstacles in its way and just when you think things may start bogging down, there is either a big action sequence on the way, or Jet Li is going to piss on Jackie Chan’s face.
The Forbidden Kingdom comes fairly loaded with extras in this two disc set. On the first disc is the movie, as well as a bunch of extras, some better than others. The best featurette by far is a little documentary about the studio in China where they shot the movie. It’s a place known as CHINAWOOD to western filmmakers and it is massive! A whole film about this place would be quite entertaining to see on its own.
There is also a commentary track with director Rob Minkoff and writer John Fusco which gets a little more into the mythology of Ancient China and the making of the film itself, and a blooper reel which is very heavy on the Chan, which is a good thing if you enjoy that sorta stuff. The second disc is the digital copy of the film.