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Review

Chan, Li combine talents for ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’

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April 24, 2008

The popularity of old kung fu movies in America is a little puzzling. In their native lands, these flicks represent the stuff of legend—grand cinematic representations of stories handed down across the generations.

  On this side of the pond, though, the best examples a lot of people see are a bunch of people in goofy costumes beating the stuffing out of each other. The new fantasy adventure “The Forbidden Kingdom” tries to have its cake and eat it too by attempting to appeal to both sides of this entertainment divide. But in doing so, the flick leaves itself wide open to inconsistencies, and in the end, it doesn’t feel so much underwhelming as it feels undercooked.

  Michael Angarano plays Jason, a kid in the Big Apple who spends his days perusing Chinatown shops for bootleg kung fu DVDs. When one of his shopping trips lands him in a skirmish with some young thugs, Jason gets the surprise of his life when he falls off a roof and lands not on the ground, but rather in China—and several centuries prior, at that.

  It’s not long before our confused hero encounters Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), a drunken scholar who informs him that the antique staff that apparently sent him back in time belongs to the Monkey King (Jet Li), a warrior turned into a statue by the vicious Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).

  Tasked with delivering the staff to the Monkey King and freeing him from his stone prison, Jason sets about acquainting himself with the martial arts in order to do battle with the Jade Warlord’s armies, with the help of not just Lu Yan but also a stoic monk (also Jet Li) assigned to make sure the staff gets back to its rightful owner.

  It’s no secret that the biggest selling point of “The Forbidden Kingdom” is the long-awaited team-up of martial arts legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li. While I completely agree with those who say that this meeting of the minds (not to mention fists) would have been even better had it taken place a decade ago, it should be noted that the film doesn’t disappoint in pitting these two guys against one another. Their very first encounter, which swiftly leads into a gravity-defying brawl, is nothing short of cinematic gold—the kung fu equivalent of seeing Pacino and De Niro duke it out. But sometimes, “The Forbidden Kingdom” simply doesn’t know what direction to head in, saddling viewers with such “wink, wink” moments like a female sidekick who randomly refers to herself in the third person, while often telling a story that takes itself way too seriously.

  As tantalizing as the idea of Jackie and Jet teaming up sounds, “The Forbidden Kingdom” is nowhere close to delivering on the hype. Overall, it’s an entertaining enough action flick, but those hoping for a battle royale will be disappointed when the flick they’re presented with is a royale with cheese.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.