- Rated PG-13
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
o matter how good “The Forbidden Kingdom” turned out, fanboys were still guaranteed to walk out a little disappointed. After all, it’s not very often that two martial arts titans like Jackie Chan and Jet Li come together to headline a big-budget action film, and expectations were astronomically high. Here’s hoping the second time is a charm, because even though there’s an enjoyable family-friendly adventure film hidden underneath all the hype, there’s not enough action in this Hong Kong “Wizard of Oz” clone to satisfy the very audience it was intended to please.
The film stars “Sky High” graduate Michael Angarano as Jason Tripitikas, a kung-fu obsessed teenager who is suddenly transported back to ancient China after he discovers a mystical golden staff in the middle of a pawnshop in Chinatown. It turns out that the staff in question belongs to the fabled Monkey King (Li), a rebellious immortal who was imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) 500 years before. In order to end the warlord’s tyrannous rule over the land, Jason must embark on a dangerous quest with the help of a drunken kung-fu master (Chan), a silent monk (Li, again), and a beautiful warrior (Yifei Liu) to return the golden staff to its rightful owner and find his way back home.
At just under 120 minutes, “The Forbidden Kingdom” seems abnormally long, and it’s mostly due to director Rob Minkoff’s insistence that he cram as much information as humanly possible into the story. Working off a script from John Fusco (who, curiously enough, is also behind the remake of “Seven Samurai”), Minkoff doesn’t seem content with just using “Journey to the West” (the original story of the Monkey King) as his source material, but also tosses in references to everything from “The Bride with White Hair” to Jackie Chan’s own “Drunken Master.” It’s simply too much, and as a result, the film gradually becomes a parody of itself.
Of course, it doesn’t help when your lead actor has been incorrectly cast. Nothing against Michael Angarano, but he’s just not right for the role, and while the audience should be excited to see him go from dorky dud to ass-kicking stud, his “Karate Kid”-esque transformation is instead met with laughter. Thankfully, the film’s cheesier moments are overshadowed by the action, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what everyone has come to see? You bet, and while Jackie Chan and Jet Li both do a respectable job with their dual roles (along with his primary character, Chan also cameos as the owner of the pawnshop), it’s their mano-a-mano battle midway through that is the highlight of the entire film.
Clocking in at around 10 minutes long, the much-anticipated face-off is so worth the wait that you could walk out of the theater right after and not miss a single thing. Action fans have been waiting for this moment for nearly a decade, and though the rest of the movie never quite lives up to this cinematic clash of the titans, “The Forbidden Kingdom” remains a viable choice for dads looking to treat their kids to a movie. Jackie Chan is funnier than he’s ever been before, and if there’s one thing that director Rob Minkoff does right, it’s letting a true master like him run the show.