For Chinese martial arts film stars, death is the only retirement, no matter what they say about their ‘final martial arts epic’ or whatever. Last time I heard, neither Jackie Chan or Jet Li was dead, which explains (in part) why they’re doing a film together for release in 2008.

Forbidden Kingdom is based on China’s legend of the monkey king, originally told in the epic novel Journey to the West. The Monkey King, Sun Wukong, is amazingly and hilariously powerful: he’s immortal, a shape-shifter (his hairs can be transformed into objects and clones of himself) and cloud-traveler with a staff that can become tiny or large enough to reach the heavens.

So it makes perfect sense that an American kid finds the staff next to a cage full of starving mogwai in a pawn shop, then travels back in time to help free the imprisoned king. Jet Li will play both the Monkey King and a monk, while Jackie is just stuck playing a monk. I’m betting that Jet Li won’t do much of the hair-shape-changing stuff in this one.

The plot outline is also amusing because it recalls the last vaguely decent Jackie Chan flick, The Myth, in which Chan was both a modern archaelogist and an ancient general. That one ended with a tedious and hugely silly final battle as slumbering ancient characters fought modern Jackie. Which just means Rob Minkoff, director of Forbidden Kingdom, will have to work extra hard to make his movie the most absurd Jackie Chan movie out there. He’ll have help from Yuen Wo-Ping, at least.

Lions Gate is ponying up for the bulk of the film’s cost, but The Weinstein Company is also a partner on the film, with distro set for Spain, France and Latin America. Hope none of those territories mind seeing scissor marks.