The Forbidden Kingdom Review

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Kung fu-obsessed Jason Tripitikas (Angarano) falls off a roof while holding a Chinese fighting staff, and is somehow transported to ancient China. There, he is tasked with freeing the powerful Monkey King with the help of drunk immortal Lu Yan (Chan) and Silent Monk (Jet Li).


It feels like it should have happened before, but this really is the first collaboration between Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and everything else in this fun but supremely silly kung fu romp is overshadowed by that fact. Sure, it’s advertised like a family adventure movie, but at heart this is the lost lovechild of the Shaw Brothers’ ’70s output and bonkers ’80s TV show Monkey, a crazy tale redeemed by two martial arts masters thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The plot sees modern teen Jason, Sky High’s Michael Angarano, mysteriously transported to a mythical China by a magical fighting staff. There, he meets drunken beggar Yu Lan (Jackie Chan), who tells him that he must deliver the staff to the Monkey King, long ago turned to stone by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). With the help of the vengeful Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei) and the taciturn - obviously - Silent Monk (Jet Li) they must go west, beat the bad guy, reawaken the good guy and save the day.

The plot’s a mish-mash of Chinese legends made Western-friendly, with little nods to the likes of The Karate Kid and Pirates Of The Caribbean (Chan’s costume is pure Cap’n Jack). Angarano’s presence and the modern bookends are largely irrelevant, and the overlong running time doesn’t help, the story bogged down in a succession of martial arts set-pieces that will bore small children as much as they thrill devotees. But then, at least part of the film’s aim is to serve as a My First Kung Fu Movie, introducing newcomers to a largely defunct style of filmmaking - although the film’s look is more Lord Of The Rings than the wonderfully scratchy Technicolor of the works that inspired it. In the end, however, it lives or dies on the action - and the two stars don’t disappoint, either when sparring together or in taking on hordes of enemies under the direction of legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. Both appear to deliver a punch from A to B without bothering to pass any intervening points, and there’s a clear onscreen sense of professional satisfaction in playing together at last, and perhaps a hint of rivalry as the blows flicker past. It looks like they’re just having fun - perhaps that’s all it’s really about.

The missing link between ’00s wushu, ’80s kids’ fantasy and ’70s chop-socky, this manages to be thoroughly entertaining - and the face-off between Chan and Li is worth the entrance price alone.