Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray
|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|
“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|
“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.
“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.