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Movie Review

The Forbidden Kingdom

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of martial arts action and some violence

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray

Better than Average
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Primary Audience:
Kids, Teens, Adults
Action, Adventure, Fantasy
1 hr. 53 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
April 18, 2008 (wide—3,000 theaters)
DVD: September 9, 2008
Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate Copyright, Lionsgate
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Lionsgate

Why I stopped following Buddha and started following Jesus Christ? Answer

Ten Questions I’d Ask If I Could Interview Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) Today—Go

Can mysticism lead to God? Answer

Jesus Christ 2, Buddha 0

Featuring: Jet Li (The Monkey King/The Silent Monk), Michael Angarano, Jackie Chan (Lu Yan/Old Hop), Morgan Benoit, Bin Jiang, Shaohua Yang, Deshun Wang, Collin Chou, Yifei Liu, Xiao Dong Mei, Mathew Tang, Alan Ng, Michelle Du, Yang Jun, Jeffrey Kong, Bingbing Li, Rui Li, Matthew Grant, Xiao Keng Ye
Director: Rob Minkoff
“The Lion King,” “Stuart Little,” “The Haunted Mansion
Producer: Nai Liang Chi, Raffaella De Laurentiis, Scott Fischer, Hester Hargett, Ryan Kavanaugh, David U. Lee, Philip Lee, Casey Silver, Lynwood Spinks, Mathew Tang, Woo-ping Yuen
Distributor: Lionsgate

“The path is unsafe. The place is unknown. The journey is unbelievable.”

They just don’t get much better than this, especially if you are a Jackie Chan fan, a martial arts fan, a Jet Li fan, a fantasy story fan, a special FX action movie fan,… um… let’s see… I could go on and on. For all the afore mentioned, “The Forbidden Kingdom” fits the bill.

Not only for those who like a good kung fu flick, the long anticipated pairing of the most famous living martial arts masters, Jackie Chan (the “Rush Hour” series) and Jet Li (“Fearless,” “Once Upon a Time in China”), makes this fun and entertaining film worth the price of admission.

Keeping in mind, from the time you sit down with your popcorn and candy, this is a completely fictional, tongue in cheek, throwback, channeling several movies from the 1980s and 1990s at once, including “The Karate Kid” and “Princess Bride.” I also detected a sprinkling of “Kung Fu Hustle,” as well as “Star Wars” in there someplace. Kung fu junkies will also elbow each other over the many references to classics, from the first sight of the reeling, tippling Chan (whose astonishing “Drunken Master II” is required viewing) to Golden Sparrow's invitation to “come drink with me” (the title of another wuxia landmark).

So have fun with it, enjoy the drama, marvel at it’s cinemagraphic beauty, and laugh with the intended good humor as it carries you along with it’s main character, Jason (Michael Angarano—“24,” “Will and Grace,” “Lords of Dogtown”) a classic kung fu movie geek who frequents a 100-year-old pawn shop in China Town, run by a very old man named Hop. While rummaging there one day for bootlegged martial arts classics, Jason recognizes a golden staff amongst Hop's clutter. It's a staff of legend and magic, and after a fight with local bullies, where Jason falls from a five story building while holding the staff, Jason finds instead of splatting onto the pavement below, he has been magically transported to a farming village in ancient China.

As Jason sets off to find out how he got there and how to get back to his own time, he meets up with three travelers. The first an immortal named Drunken Fist (Jackie Chan) who tells him the story of the Divine Staff. It seems it belonged to The Monkey King who was imprisoned in stone in a castle at the top of Five Element Mountain over 500 years ago. The Seeker of The Staff, which appears to be Jason (as he is in possession of the staff), was foretold in ancient prophesy to be the one to return to the castle and free the Monkey King from his stone enclosure. The second traveler he meets is Silent Monk (Jet Li) who teams with Drunken Fist to teach Jason the art of Gung Fu, which he needs to know in order to return the divine staff to it’s rightful owner. The third traveler to accompany the trio is a beautiful young woman named Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei), a fearsome warrior in her own right, who seeks to avenge the death of her parents.

The evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) who imprisoned the Monkey King and had many of his followers killed, including Golden Sparrow’s parents, stands in their way, as does the white-haired Witch of Wolves (Li Bing Bing) who battles to the death over her lust for endless life through one drink of the fabled Elixir of, you guessed it, Immortality.

As our 4 heroes set forth on their journey towards the final battle with the Jade Warlord and his Jade Army (as in all great fantasy fairy tale adventures), the wimpy Jason learns life lessons in loyalty, friendship, hard work, and perseverance. He becomes courageous and strong and, as is with every boy-to-a-man scenario, he also finds true love in the gentle form of Golden Sparrow.

The action never stops, and the first scene where Chan and Li’s characters meet in a temple and have a martial arts face off is exhilarating. All the wondrously wired fight/action sequences in “The Forbidden Kingdom” were choreographed by Woo-Ping Yuen (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “The Matrix”), and it shows.

Also something to note, although the original plot is based on the Chinese legend of the Monkey King, John Fusco's script beautifully Americanizes the legend and marries it with takes from the Chinese epic “Journey to the West” based on the same plot. Fusco, who also scripted such adventures as “Hidalgo,” has expertly combined plot elements borrowed from “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and Chan's own “Drunken Master” series to produce a story rich in Chinese culture and one that smacks of many familiar elements that American audiences will revel in.

This isn’t the first time that Jackie Chan and Jet Li tried to do a film together.

“Fifteen years ago I write a script with him, Jet Li,” says Chan. “A lot of comedy. Great action! When I present the script to American writer, he didn’t like it. And after he rewrite the script, I don’t like it! That’s why it didn’t happen. This time it happened because Casey, the producer, in the middle. All those years, every ten days he give me a call. He’s the one flying around back and forth. Make the whole thing happen.”

“Stories like the Monkey King, which ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’ is based on, are completely unknown to most Western audiences,” says Jet Li. “But the script got so many details right, and it created this great fusion of Eastern and Western sensibilities. It seemed like the perfect way to bring this character to an international audience. Having made so many violent movies in my career to date, I thought it was about time I made a film that families with children will be able to enjoy together. This is the film that I’m making for my two girls.”

In regards to the appropriateness of the movie for varied audiences, the violence in this PG-13 rated movie is never graphic, though possibly disturbing for young children, especially one scene where the Silent Monk is cut with a weapon and bleeds and another where Drunken Fist is shot with an arrow. There is only one usage of a swear word, in the form of the evil White Witch calling Golden Sparrow an “orphan bi**h,” and I didn’t hear any others, but if anyone else notices anything negative, please post it here. There is no sexual content, with the exception of an implied impending assault by the Jade Warlord, there is never any offensive sexual scenes and never any nudity.

The spiritual references remained positive, and remembering we are watching a fantasy rooted strongly in Chinese legend, which includes immortals and battles between good and evil, the spiritual references are symbolic within the context of the story and it’s characters. Much like the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis in American fantasy culture, they include the on going main theme that we are all created equal and are the same inside, as well as the strength in friendship, sacrifice, love, seeking the will of God (in reference only) and then you will find true happiness. Strength as Chan’s character explains in proverb form: “Nothing is softer than water. Yet it is strong enough to overcome rock,” as well as noting that we must “empty our cup of all worldly thoughts, before we can fill it again” with the power of God (in reference only, our Christian God was never mentioned, but nodded to many times through out the script).

Just keep in mind “The Forbidden Kingdom” is a fantasy-based movie, so expect some magical displays and references to immortal beings, but this is not too heavily done, so the story is fairly easy to follow. Refreshingly, the movie has relatively little in the way of moral ambiguity, with villains that are really evil and those who oppose them being flawed humans, but still striving to that which is morally right. Keeping all that in mind, I would consider this a fine movie for the whole family, as long as parents explain to their kids that this is a film completely based on fantasy, they can still spark discussions based on Christian biblical teachings and especially the love of Christ for his children and the aspect of strong morals, trust, friendship, tolerance, giving and courage that does not boast but comes from the heart of God Himself.

Appropriately for the ending of a fantasy steeped in action, adventure, romance, and good natured fun, Jason becomes a better person, and crosses the line from being a boy into a man of ethics and honor. Equipped with the wisdom to know as one journey in life ends so another begins.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—“The Forbidden Kingdom” starts off in a way similar to “The Karate Kid,” with Jason (Michael Angarano), a boy new to his local high school who loves kung fu movies, but is helpless to defend himself against the neighborhood bullies. These same bullies force him to help them into a pawn shop whose owner is shot but still passes on a mysterious staff to Jason. The staff turns out to be that of the legendary Monkey King and Jason is transported into ancient China where he journeys to use the staff to free the imprisoned Monkey King. In the end Jason must prove himself as he faces both fantastical and real life foes.

Once in China Jason acquires several companions; Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) a wine drinking kung fu master, Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) a vengeance driven young women and later a monk (Jet Li) who protect him and later train him in the art of kung fu. Together they journey to Five Elements Mountain to attempt to free the Monkey King and end the reign of the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) who sends innumerable troops to stop them.

This movie works on many levels, none too deep, but very satisfying none the less. First of all it is a great action movie with very well done kung fu action scenes involving Jackie Chan and Jet Li, two of the greatest kung fu movie stars in the past couple of decades. In the midst of all of this is a great deal of fairly well done comedy, sometimes not perfectly executed, but generally fun, especially during the kung fu training of Jason. Last but not least this is a classic coming of age story in which Jason journeys from being a boy who fantasizes of adventure to a young man who can fight and suffer for what is right.

This is a fantasy movie, so expect some magical displays and references to immortal beings, but this is not too heavily done so the story is fairly easy to follow. From a Christian perspective viewers should be aware there are a number of references to beings and events that I believe are rooted in various Taoist and Buddhist mythologies. I personally did not find this offensive since it is just a part of the background of the story, with the focus being on the relationships and decisions facing the characters in the story.

Refreshingly the movie has relatively little in the way of moral ambiguity, with villains that are really evil and those who oppose them being flawed humans but still striving to that which is right.

In regards to the appropriateness of the movie for varied audiences, the violence in this PG-13 rated movie is never graphic, though possibly disturbing for young children. There is no sexual content with the exception of an implied impending assault by the Jade Warlord (we see nothing actually happening here). I saw the movie in a pre-screening with mostly college students whose applause and laughs made it clear they enjoyed it, but I am quite a bit past college and found it just as enjoyable.

One last comment, while virtually all of the dialogue between main characters is in English, there is a fair amount of Mandarin Chinese being spoken during the movie. In the few instances when knowing the content of this is important there are English subtitles and I did not find the un-translated portions to be an issue.

Overall, this is a movie that is exciting, fun and generally very satisfying to watch.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Larry Kramer, age 49
Positive—My husband and I saw this movie on opening day and really enjoyed it. We love martial arts movies especially with actors such as Jet Li and Jackie Chan. It was good to see that Jackie Chan did such a clean movie this time and we are hoping that he does more like this one. The reviewer did a fantastic job and I am in complete agreement with how this movie was reviewed!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Sheila Myers, age 37
Positive—I seen this movie on the second night it was out, I had looking forward to this movie all day, so when saturday night rolled around, I was giddy, let's say the Forbidden Kingdom exceeded my expectations and and threw a lot of curves, I was surprised to note a lot of references to many chinese martial arts movies, and even western movies like star wars, it has action, love and even good moral messages, this is a movie you can take your family or date to go see, it is very artful and will make you more interested in more martial arts movies, trust me there is many to choose from
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Ben, age 20
Positive—My 5 yr old and family Loved this movie. It was very good some funny spots that kept you laughing. There was some violence but overall it was a good movie with a good moral. Yes, it is based on chinese culture so don't get all upset in the fact that they talk about heaven and that and have quote “gods” that rule and come back every 500 years.

Just remember that it is based on the chinese culture and that Jackie Chan and Jet Li are good actors. Thoroughly enjoyable.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Laura, age 33
Positive—Our entire family went to see this movie, including 14 and 11 year old boys. We have seen other Jackie Chan movies, since some are only slightly objectionable. This was the best Jackie Chan/Martial Arts movie we have seen. Those who enjoy martial arts movies will especially like this one, but there is much in it for others as well. It could be described as something of a Chinese Lord of the Rings movie. As for negatives, I heard only 2 or 3 curse words, which I think were uttered only by bad guys/gals. There is no nudity or sexual situations.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—David, age 45
Positive—Here is a movie that kept it's promise. It gave us what we want, lots of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, although they are in supporting role with lots of wire-ful fights of fancy from acclaimed choreographer Yuen Woo-ping of THE MATRIX and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON fame. To a child, it's the best martial art there is while the average adult enjoys some of the scenery and ancient culture of another country, and to the film connoisseur, it pays homage to early martial art films and legends. Even, fan on fantasy will not be disappointed. Despite what both Chan and Li's less optimistic statements in over seas reports about this American production, I found myself quite enjoying it. Michael Angarano did just fine as the traveler from a distant future and place, who must return the ancient staff to it's rightful owner, the Monkey King (Li).

Kung fu is not just a violent, adult sport or militant combatant tactic. It is a way of life and filled with spiritual enlightenment from the shaolin temple practiced by the Buddhist monks to the everyday citizens stretching in the early morning to the Tai Chi stance. THE FORBIDDEN CITY is from an old story called “Journey to the West” ascribed to Wu Chengen is an action-adventure story filled with spiritual insight. This modern American adaptation included fantasy elements with a Western twist.

We followed a young American teenager, Jason Trapitikas (Angarano), who is a Hong Kong kung-fu fanatic who is a patron of Old Hop's (Chan) antique and video shop. Shortly after discovering the Golden Staff that belongs to the Monkey King, unbeknownst to him at the time, he was accosted by a gang of bullies. When the gang shot Old Hop, Jason ran to the roof top with the golden staff and felled about five story down. He wakes up in a village in ancient China and then is propelled into an unforgettable adventure.

Between wanting to go back home and learning of the golden staff's purpose and cowering from the Jade Warlord's (Collin Chou) armies or get trained by Lu Yan and Silent Monk (Chan and Li, again, respectively). Before Lu Yan and Silent Monk teamed up with their new young friend, they have a fight that gave both Chan and Li's fans a thrill ride.

It's like THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA with martial arts, but then again, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is filled with Eastern mysticisms and philosophies. Hence the Western antagonist who wore a prominent crucifix as the destructive bully. It's a coming of age tale with Eastern spiritual context. It deals with full filling one's goal or dream and not to be fooled by thinking that one's cup is full and can't add any more to it. It deals with hate and vengeance and the consequences of such thought and action. It deals with peace and real immortality which is not necessary about living physically forever but what will be our legacy.

What is common in martial art is a fighting style called Drunken Fist which Chan had portrayed many times before and most notably in Yuen Woo-ping's 1978 DRUNKEN MASTER. It is a fluid moving technique utilizing wine as it's component for its deceptively powerful blows and kicks that will knock it's opponent off ground. The master of this fighting style drinks the wine heavily to the point of drunkenness, yet he is in control of his physical ability. Here, the wine is not only his main drink but it's his elixir to being an immortal master according to Chan's character, Lu Yan.

It's good to see Li doing some comedic scene versus most of his tough guy persona. I knew that the Monkey King looked familiar and I was right. Li played him with just the right tone.

In the beginning where the bullies read the titles of the video that Jason have on him, one of them is called THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, a favorite of mine, was paid a tribute from the White Witch played by Bingbing Li. If BlockBuster does not carry THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, check at your local Asian video rental shop. The use of her hair as a weapon before CGI is just amazing as performed by the incomparable Brigitte Lin.

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is a fun ride, just enough to satisfied both adults and children alike. It is also good to see the trailer or preview for some interesting plot point left out of the main theatrical release. Like the romance between Golden Sparrow (Yi Fei Lui) and Jason.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Mang Yang, age 35
Positive—Chan's character made a remark that he'd rather become close to someone and suffer than desire nothing and be at peace—I was encouraged by his character's departure from the traditional Buddhist philosophy.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Joshua Seigler, age 25
Positive—This was an excellent movie I really enjoyed it. The action was very intense and the acting between Jet Li and Jackie Chan was interesting. That's the first time I have seen them in a movie together and I had doubts that they would not have any chemistry but they did. The movie was pretty clean, but there were some unexpected curse words. No sex scenes, but there were some scantly clad women in some parts. The martial Arts in the film were spectacular to watch along with cinematography. It is a fantasy movie so some of the elements are not according to biblical scriptures. Overall I would highly recommend this movie to those that like martial arts films.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Gene Cooks, age 32
Neutral—I enjoyed this film, but was very upset with the review Christian Spotlight has provided for this film. They mention only one instance of profanity in the film, apparently missing the four or five instances in the first ten minutes of the film, entirely. I recommended this film to my family based off the Christian Spotlight review, only to encounter these instances of profanity as well as a few others later in the film. Needless to say, this upset us all—myself especially, as I'd recommended the film in good faith. …
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Mike H, age 23
Negative—I wish I could give this film a positive rating like Sheri McMurray did, but it simply left me with a bad taste in my mouth that won't go away. I am a huge Jackie Chan fan, I've watched most of his movies on VCR tapes that were so blurry you could barely make out his face at times, and I've also followed Jet Li's earlier career as well. I was immensely excited to see this movie, and waited for months to finally see it with my wife. And in one of the opening scenes, the film portrays a young villain, who proceeds to beat, kill, plunder, curse, and basically do every denomination of evil while wearing an unmistakably prominent cross of Christ. What makes this so disgusting is that someone (or a group of the filmmakers) made a conscious decision to put this on the primary villain, a kid who is 20 times worse than the “Jade Warlord.” Would a Muslim crescent moon or a star of David have been tolerated in such a scene? I doubt it… and yet as Christians, are we simply to shrug our shoulders over this?

I am very disappointed. I had so hoped to see a lively, escapist kung fu masterpiece, and instead I was attacked by God-haters. The rest of the film, at that point, becomes suspect, and its spiritual leanings manifested this. “God” was portrayed as a useless, incapable, and for the most part absent old man, and immortality and salvation were earned by merit. I understand the Chinese culture and its beliefs, and I have been able to overlook it in past kung fu films, but this time it seemed to be ultimately directed at making a mockery of truth. Very disappointed.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Nicholas Timinskas, age 30
Negative—I have been a fan of both Jackie Chan and Jet Li for like forever, but this film in my opinion is Chan's worst ever!!

There are many problems with this film. 1st off the screenplay is awful. There was little plot development and its like an extended-set up that leads to a sudden conclusion. This is probably the lamest martial arts film in modern memory.

The action scenes are very dull. The problem with them is that they are seriously overloaded with CGI. There is a sequence where a magical staff fights a bad guy all by itself. This film didn't even come close to expectations.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Jonathan Tran, age 25
Comments from young people
Neutral—Well, I was both amused and disappointed with this movie. Obviously it was made to target the male audience, because all the girls I know who saw it were not too impressed. I found the plot line a little out of whack. I didn't understand how falling off the building all of a sudden transported him to another reality. What the heck? And what with the magic along with the fighting? Jackie Chan was amazing, as always and I really enjoyed the guy from Sky High, whose name escapes me at this moment. The fighting scenes were pretty cool and I must admit I really enjoyed the Monkey Kung Fu guy. I loved that he was always smiling and laughing when he was fighting. It reminded me that even when were against something that's bent out to destroy us, we can take heart and know that God is on our side and we can trust in him. That would keep me happy too.

Overall, one thumb up. If your a guy, definitely take the time to see it, you'll probably enjoy it. For us girls, we'll let your brother/boyfriend/best friend pick the movie for once, grit your teeth, and enjoy.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Rachael Compton, age 16
Positive—This movie was amazing! I love Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies and I knew this would be good but wow! The actual movie provides more story than the preview foreshadowed and I thought that just made it better. There are definitely christian morals like how revenge only makes things worse and they show that in the film. The only thing I really thought was bad was how they made so much reference to Buddha and Buddhism. Like in one scene Jet Li interrupts some rain creating thing and Jackie yells at Jet saying, “You insult the name of Buddha! Blasphemy!” And the buddhism statues but everything in the movie was pretty much just a Chinese fairy tale. But, overall, I absolutely loved this movie and cannot wait to see it again.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Jake, age 14
Positive—At first I was unsure about seeing this movie then I was glad we went to go see it. I recommend this movie to every one of all ages!!!…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Moriah, age 12
Positive—First of all don't get me wrong, this is a great movie but it was slightly cheesy, like the monkey king character. He would move so smoothly and when he hits somebody they would fly so smoothly, but it was only in parts of the movie so it wasn't all that bad. The fights were long but not any blood in most fights. I only found two bad words.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Matt, age 10
Negative—Well, I thought this movie was great, at first, because of its martial arts sequences. As I watched it again, once or twice, I realized the story was extremely boring. No plot development, hardly any character development, etc. It is a very boring movie, except for the fight sequences, so I wouldn't suggest watching it. Plus, Jet Li takes a pee on Jacki Chan, but you can skip that part, because there's not much that goes on during that scene. Jackie Chan makes it rain (they're in a desert), they go to a forest, and Jason gets better at his training. All in all, don't watch this movie, it's just simply not worth it, pertaining to the quality of the plot.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 2
Brandon, age 16 (USA)