Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Movie Review: The Forbidden Kingdom

Well, that was a relief. Given the recent string of lousy Jackie Chan American movies (Around The World In 80 Days, The Medallion, The Tuxedo) and some passable but not outstanding Chinese movies (Rob-B-Hood, The Myth, New Police Story), I was hopeful to see a better effort here when teamed with Jet Li. And I certainly wasn't disappointed. This isn't going to be at the top of the list of all-time great Jackie Chan or Jet Li movies, but it's a solid martial arts period piece suitable for foreign audiences with some background in the genre.

The basic summary is: The Last Action Hero meets The Karate Kid. A teenage martial-arts-film fanatic take hold of a magical staff and finds himself transported to imperial China and the lead of his own martial arts saga. It's populated with the appropriate trappings - the drunken wanderer, the mystic monk, evil warlords and witches. There's training montages, students acting before they are ready, flying warriors - nothing we haven't seen before. But it's all done pretty well, and plotted well-enough to keep the pace moving right along. And thankfully, they didn't include too many instances of the hero having to explain some anachronistic reference to the others.

Jackie's drunken master role here is, of course, an old familiar one. Newer though is his role as trainer instead of trainee - for a change, he gets to deal out the punishment to his pupil instead of taking it. And I have to admit - I didn't recognize Jackie as the old shopkeeper at the beginning of the movie. Jet Li has also played the more stoic monk role a number of times, but more surprising was his turn as the Monkey King. He doesn't seem to get many chances to act playful in his movies, as he is usually in either the quiet teacher/monk or controlled anger mode. But really, I don't have any complaints about the acting, here.

Action-wise, it's a lot of wire-work wuxia-style here, with people flying around, whipping each other with flowing robes and hair. If that's not your bag, you won't like much of the fighting. It's not always my favorite, but it's what I should expect from Jackie now that he's getting up in years. Again, it's all well-done stuff, and the long-awaited battle between Jackie and Jet doesn't disappoint; nor does Jackie's early fight scene in the tavern. And I'm glad that the hero here only ended up as just about competent, rather than becoming a martial-arts superman overnight. He does save the day at the end, but really more due to the efforts of the Monkey King than his own super skills.

So, all in all, a good effort here, and a worthy entry in both Jackie's and Jet's filmographies. Four stars.

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