The Netflix Queue: The Forbidden Kingdom

Not exactly DVD reviews, these are movies that I’ve wanted to see, but for one reason or another, had to wait till they came out on DVD to watch them. This will range from older movies that I only recently heard about to newer films that I just didn’t have the time to catch in the theater. Enjoy!

Forbidden_Kingdom_posterJet Li and Jackie Chan are undoubtedly two of the most famous martial arts actors since Bruce Lee. So, when you finally put them in a movie together, it should be gold, right? Heaven knows I was looking forward to it.

Well, in the case of The Forbidden Kingdom, the martial arts sequences are indeed gold. However, the movie itself suffers from a few very noticeable flaws, including a poorly developed main character and a forced love interest, just to name a couple.

But let’s face it: that’s not what anybody is watching this for. The Forbidden Kingdom is a martial arts fantasy that’s just supposed to be fun. And it really is.

Jason (Michael Angarano) is a Boston teen who’s obsessed with old kung fu movies. He finds a special staff in the local pawn shop, and gets transported to ancient China. There, he learns that the staff he holds belongs to the Monkey King, who has been trapped in stone by the evil Jade Warlord. If Jason can free the Monkey King, he will be able to break the Jade Warlord’s 500-year reign.

The Forbidden Kingdom is a loose retelling of Journey Into The West, an ancient Chinese tale that includes myths about the Monkey King, played here in all his mischievous glory by Jet Li. The scenes where the Monkey King fights are some of the best in the movie, mostly because he constantly looks like he’s just having the time of his life. When he and the Jade Warlord fight for the first time, it’s funny to see one taking it so seriously while the other treats it like a playful game.

Jet Li and Jackie Chan both pull double duty here, with Jet Li playing both the Monkey King and the Silent Monk, and Chan playing Lu Yan, a master of the drunken style, and Old Hop, the owner of Jason’s neighborhood pawn shop. It’s a shame that they only fight each other once, but that fight is pretty much the centerpiece of the film, for obvious reasons. You watch a movie with Jet Li and Jackie Chan not only to see them fight, but to see them fight each other.

But while the fight scenes are the reason to watch the movie, other parts of it leave something to be desired. Jason isn’t exactly the most likable character in the beginning, and he spends a lot of time getting pushed around and whining about it. Every time the movie was focusing on him and not on the Monk and Lu Yan, I wanted to shoot something. It’s not until the last 10 minutes that he really comes into his own.

To make matters worse, they include a token love interest, Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), and shoehorn in a love story between her and Jason with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer-wielding barbarian. The filmmakers give the characters all of zero reasons to get together, and yet every time they’re alone, Sparrow and Jason are making googly eyes at each other.

Just because you have two people of the opposite sex in a film does not mean you have to make them fall for each other. Seriously.

But once you get past the weak main character and poor love story (and it is possible, I assure you), the movie is really enjoyable. The bad guys (the Jade Warlord and the witch Ni Chang) are delightfully evil and the visuals in ancient China are gorgeous.

As long as you’re not expecting a brilliant script, great character development, or scintillating insight into the human psyche, you’ll enjoy The Forbidden Kingdom just fine. In fact, I would encourage you to see it. It’s a fun, relatively light adventure fantasy that promises escapism and entertainment, and it delivers exactly that.

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