The Forbidden Kingdom is a banner event–it’s the first film in which Chinese martial arts titans Jackie Chan and Jet Li appear together. Though not mega-thrilling, the long-awaited pairing is indeed exciting and kungfu fans will get their money’s worth. Jet Li fans will appreciate an extra treat–he plays his first comedic role and turns in–or should I say twists, whirls, leaps, and cavorts in–a surprisingly beguiling performance.
The story, such as it is, is kind of goofy–a mishmash of elements from The Karate Kid, ancient Chinese mythology, and contemporary action comics. Jason (Michael Angarano, The Final Season), an American teenager obsessed by kungfu movies, hangs out in the pawnshop owned by Old Hop (Jackie Chan). Escaping from a vicious street gang, Jason grabs a carved stick from the shop–it just happens to be the legendary weapon of the mythical Monkey King–and Jason is whisked away to ancient China. Here he meets Lu Yan (also played by Chan), a traveling kungfu master who’d rather be drunk than brave. They meet up with another kungfu master, Silent Monk (Jet Li), and then comes Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a beautiful vengeful girl who throws mean winged darts. They journey far to the kingdom of the Jade King to rescue the Monkey King (Jet Li again) from the 500-year-old curse that turned him to stone.
Even though Jackie Chan did not choreograph this Hollywood-made movie, there’s lots of terrific kungfu work both on the ground and by wire; incredible Oriental scenery, such as the bamboo forest and the Gobi Desert; and gorgeous sets and costumes. My favorite character is a fantastic witch warrior (Bingbing Li) who whips her long white hair around like the tongues of a dragon. Bad guys (and gals) get punched, smacked, kicked, and generally pummeled to pieces, but there’s nary a drop of blood anywhere and the good people win in the end without even getting their silk gowns sweaty. Nothing quite like the entertainment value of bloodless mayhem.