The Forbidden Kingdom **1/2 (out of ****)

Director: Rob Minkoff
Writer: John Wusco
Cast: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Yefei Liu, Collin Chou, Bingbing Li
Rating: PG-13 (sequences of martial arts action and some violence)
Running Time: 113 min
Release Date: 4/18/08

The Forbidden Kingdom is a welcome break for Jackie Chan perennial portrayal of the Hong Kong cop who in recent years has been increasingly investigating some crimes in America. This has been necessitated by the need for audience identification in these American productions.

However, Kingdom address this problem with a cleaver plot twist. Jason (Michael Angarano) is a young man who has a fanatical interest in Chinese martial arts films. He rents them from a store in a owned by an elderly Chinese man (Jackie Chan). One day he is attached by a street gang that uses him to trick the old man into opening his door so that they can rob his store. In the resulting altercation, the old man is shot and Jason falls of the roof of the store holding a Chinese fighting staff. He is magically transported into a mythical version of ancient China.

In this fantasy world the Jade Emperor has went to heaven for 500 years leaving less noble but immortal Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) to rule the domain in his absence. He has dispute with another immortal known as The Monkey King (Jet Li). After a great fight incorporating martial arts and paraphysical forces, the Monkey King loses his staff and is frozen in stone. Yes, the staff that Jason is clutching onto is the very one lost Monkey King staff. Wouldn’t you know it; there is a prophecy that a seeker will one day return the magic staff to The Monkey King. Jason is the one!

He soon meets up with Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) an immortal warrior monk whose elixir is rice wine which he is drinking constantly. Jason and Lu Yan join forces in a fight with the Jade Warlord troops but Lu Yan soon discovers that Jason has no kung fu. Let’s face it that not to good for a central character in a Chinese martial arts movie! Fortunately Golden Sparrow (Yefie Liu) arrives just in time to help them escape.

During there journey Lu Yan encounters The Silent Monk (Jet Li) and they get of to a bad start as they engage in combat only to eventually realize they are on the same side. As many have noted this is the first time Jackie Chan and Jet Li fight in a marital arts movie. They have to train Jason in kung fu so that he can effectively complete his prophetic task and deal with that pesky street gang when he gets back to contemporary south Boston. The Jade Warlord, seeing his regular troops aren’t up to the task, calls upon a witch bounty hunter Ni Chang (Bingbing Li) with a whip and a really wicked head of hair finish off our heroic gang of four.

The film was shot on location in China and we are treated to some memorable scenery on the journey to the final confrontation. Our hero must battle there way into the Jade Warlord’s place to free the Monkey King. The Forbidden Kingdom delivers a result somewhere between a typical Jackie Chan movie and artistic triumph of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. This film is a cut above the typical martial arts film.

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