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Review

Chan, Li combine talents for ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’

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April 24, 2008

It only took a combined total of 127 movies and 72 years of film experience to finally pair Jackie Chan and Jet Li together.  The outcome, hyped and hypothesized for years, falls woefully short of expectations, landing somewhere between ignorant and absurd.

More goofball-flavored corniness than serious attempt at martial arts, “The Forbidden Kingdom” chronicles the unlikely adventure of Jason Tripitikis (Michael Angarano), a kung fu-obsessed hermit of a teen. 

While browsing through a local pawn shop, Jason discovers a mythical staff that sends him hurtling back in time to feudal China. There he must learn to embrace his destiny as the fabled ‘Seeker of the Staff,’ and help lead a small team of archetypal martial arts masters (Chan, Li and Yifei Liu) to free the imprisoned Monkey King and defeat the tyrannous Jade Emperor.

“Kingdom” doesn’t exactly revolutionize the martial arts genre—it doesn’t even add anything new, original or exciting—but it does manage to successfully pervert classic Chinese mythos in a vain attempt at narcissistic Westernization.

Director Rob Minkoff has fabricated a live-action Saturday morning cartoon hero quest aimed at teaching us all to find the courage within ourselves to do the right thing; and when that wet noodle of a morality lesson doesn’t stick, the film puts all its eggs in the Chan/Li basket, milking their very presence as a cheap, used-car salesman’s trick.

And therein lies the real gimmick “Kingdom” prides itself on.  Minkoff appears to be suffering too much hero worship as the two golden calves he’s raised up have consumed his eyes, blinding him from any real sense of focus or vision.  He, along with screenwriter John Fusco, ignore their responsibilities towards the art form, pushing out a bastardized cinematic stillborn.

The Chan/Li pair-up is a kung fu wet dream come true, and certified cash cow, but their manufactured involvement for the sake of profits leaves the audience dismembered by the shards of a broken script green-lit for the sake of greenbacks. 

Minkoff idolizes his two stars, framing Chan and Li’s first encounter against a sprawling temple piled high with altars, symbolic of the duo’s near God-like status.  But this reverence is short-lived; murdered moments after conception, the temple is a crumbled, forgotten relic mocking the deserved honor these two are fiercely denied.

Choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen (the guy who made Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving look cool in “The Matrix” trilogy and brought “Kill Bill” its geysered flair) adds little with his uninspired Hong Kong Phooey action stalemates. 

An early scene of the Monkey King fighting atop cloudy mountain peaks looks so amateurishly ridiculous and fake, I had to fight to contain my laughter-it’s funny at first, until you sit back and realize this is what is passing for modern cinema.

At one point in the film, the band of travelers is described as “misfits leading misfits.”  I can’t help but feel that the audience is the misfit, led by a misfit content in being a Chan/Li welfare baby.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.