The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Posted in Reviews by - October 24, 2013
The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

For hardcore flag-waving kung fu fans, a film starring two of the world’s most popular martial arts movie icons – Jackie Chan and Jet Li – was an almost unthinkable prospect. Shame, then, that the resulting film which finally unites them is a bit, well, forgettable.

For performers who mix in similar circles, there is still a lot to differentiate the two. Chan’s slapstick approach to fighting aligned itself much closer to the silent era stars of early Hollywood. Yet in the 90s, Jet Li would carve out a career as the epitome of the patriotic, noble folk hero with much straighter and traditional fare.

Even their fighting styles contrast. Jackie presented a tougher, more visceral sense of pugilism and exalted in hair-brained stunt work. Li, on the other hand, was a wushu wonder child who led the charge in wire-assisted fight choreography. Even in fan boy circles, the two have very different followings.

No surprises, then, that it was their long overdue popularity in the west which would act as the catalyst in forcing them together. Unfortunately, the two are far beyond their prime (Chan aged 54, Li aged 45). Given the film’s sense of nostalgia, Minkoff takes most of his inspiration from other kung fu movies, notably the Monkey TV show and The Karate Kid. But it’s all in good taste and elevated beyond its merits by Peter Pao’s beautiful cinematography.

The magical Narnia-like set up centres on bullied American schoolboy Jason (Angarano) who is transported from modern day Boston to medieval China courtesy of a mythical staff. He winds up traveling across the desert with a band of unlikely accomplices in a quest to return the weapon to the Monkey King, who has been turned to stone by the evil Jade Warlord (Chou in elaborate make up).

Both leading men have dual roles and play to their strengths. As well as a more comedic Mr Miyagi spoof, Chan reprises his Drunken Master shtick, affectionately adapting his middle age to suit the role of sifu rather than pupil. Meanwhile, Li plays his ‘silent monk’ persona as well as the cheeky Monkey King.

Pastiche, yes, but innocuous enough to cater for all markets, as well as being a muddled tribute to the kung fu genre of which Chan and Li helped to popularise. The best bits are the fight scenes, of course, particularly the glorious sequence in which Jackie and Jet duke it out, all feverishly choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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