Review - The Forbidden Kingdom: Kung fu all the way
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Two of Kung Fu’s greatest stars together in one motion picture; what more does an avid martial arts fan want? Possibly an instruction manual outlining the secrets of the Buddha fist and the Hollow Palm technique! Jet Li and Jackie Chan star in the Forbidden Kingdom and since they are such big stars we get them twice over! Jet Li and Jackie Chan have both got double roles in this rollicking, adventure movie aimed at the summer crowd who would enjoy a good action fantasy.
The script follows the format of the Journey of the Hero as outlined by Joseph Campbell, and is simple. The director does not waste time in building character and goes straight to the point. There is a bad guy, the Jade Emperor, and then there are an unlikely collection of misfits including a drunker scholar (Jackie Chan), a silent monk (Jet Li), a beautiful girl (Yifei Liu), and the teen protagonist (Michael Angarano), who is the only one who does not know any kungfu. Throw in a white haired witch (BingBing Li) and what you have is a potent mixture. The story is ostensibly based on characters from Chinese mythology and the characters exist to drive the plot.
Unlike other Jackie Chan films, the tone of the film does not have too much of slapstick except in some sequences, and remains true to the Jackie Chan code of not showing blood and gore ( a principle that was ignored in Jackie Chan’s film The Myth). Jet Li is his inscrutable self in the beginning and then becomes comical possibly under Jackie’s influence. The title sequence of the film is over laid on posters from Kung Fu films of the 70 and 80’ and one quickly recognizes Gordon Liu from 36 Chamber of Shaolin, and of course, the Boss – Bruce Lee.
Having paid his tributes, the director then throws in references to the kung fu styles seen in thousands of films, with names like the Drunken Fist ( remember Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master), the Tiger style, the Eagle ( Snake in the Eagle’s shadow, again with Jackie Chan), and the Preying Mantis.
Woo – Ping Yuen, the acclaimed martial arts choreographer of the Matrix and Kill Bill series, not to forget Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon delivers superbly. He keeps the action restrained and does not go for over the top indulgences. Thus we do not get to see people flying around and neither are there seemingly impossibly leaps and maneuvers. What we get instead is good realistic action set pieces with superb kung fu: terrific blows, blocks, weapons of various sorts being deployed including jade darts and long hair, and the kung fu staple of leg to leg action. The fight between Jet Li and Jackie Chan is terrific, with both heroes getting a chance to show off their skills to the hilt without over doing it. Woo also keeps the fight sequences short and tight, thus keeping the average viewer’s interest in mind.
The film has none of the high philosophy and romantic lyricism of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; neither does it have the dark, brutal undercurrents of films like Old Boy and Romeo Must Die. It is also not a classic kung fu chopstick film in that it does not have extended fight sequences in various kung fu styles and the standard ingredients of revenge and retribution. What it does have is good fun, great fights, and two of the biggest stars of contemporary martial arts displaying their mastery. It also has some Zen dialogues, and a message: a simplistic one perhaps, but one that will definitely warm the cockles of one’s heart!
This review is by guest reviewer Anand S. Anand lives in Pune and is a Miscellaneous Culture Vulture. He is deeply interested in music, food, books, films, and intelligent women. He views himself as a Falstaffian figure, who does his best to indulge his appetites.
The Forbidden Kingdom - Movie Details
- Official Sites: Website
- Producer: Casey Silver
- Director: Rob Mnkoff
- Lead Cast: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou
- Supporting Cast: Bing Bing Li, Yifie Liu, Deshun Wang
- Story: John Fusco
- Screenplay: John Fusco
- Action Choreography: Woo Ping Yuen
- Music Director: David Buckley
- Running time: 113 minutes
- Reviewer: Anand S
- Language: English
- Country: USA
- Genres: Action, Adventure