Film Flashback: The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate Publicity
Silent Monk (Jet Li) and Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) in “THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM.”

If “Forbidden Kingdom” was one of the year’s worst films, it would still be worth seeing for the epic clash between Jet Li (“The Expendables“) and Jackie Chan.

Nothing in Director Rob Minkoff’s resume — “The Lion King,” “Stuart Little” and “The Haunted Mansion” — would give you confidence he could handle this clash of martial arts titans, but he understands that this fight will sell tickets and doesn’t skimp on making it the film’s showcase scene.

If you’re lured in for the big fight scene,  you may be pleasantly surprised by the rest.

Jason (Michael Angarano, “24” [2012 FF: Ugh. I HATED his story arc!]) is a teenaged fan of martial art movies. After coming into possession of a mystical staff, he finds himself in an adventure all his own.

Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate Publicity
Jason Tripitikas (Michael A. Angarano) and Golden Sparrow (Crystal Liu) set off on a quest.

Minkoff doesn’t waste any time escaping the drab Boston scenery to a much more lush, vibrant countryside filled with falling flower petals and dynamic colors.

Jason meets a drunken monk, Lu Yan (Chan, “Rush Hour 3,”), who informs him the staff was the weapon of the Monkey King — an unbeatable warrior until the Jade Warlord imprisoned him. Only the staff can free him. It’s in portraying the more mythical aspects of the story that Minkoff gets to utilize his past experiences during the recap of the Monkey King. [2012 FF: That element is a bit silly and the one “take you out of the movie” aspect of an otherwise decent plot].

Chan Kam Chuen
Ni Chang (Li Bing Bing) prepares for battle.

The Warlord’s henchmen, led by Ni Chang (Bingbing Li, Ada Wong from “Resident Evil: Retribution“), are always on the hunt for the staff and pursue Jason to ensure the Warlord remains in power.

Jason aligns himself with two more wayward travelers — a Silent Monk (Li) and Sparrow (Yifei Liu) who has a personal vendetta against the Warlord — and the four prepare to return the staff to its rightful owner.

John Fusco’s (“Hildago”) screenplay mixes the fantasy elements and a nice blend of humor without making the story a satire of the martial art quest epics. It’s not overly complex and reminds me of one of those simple concept martial arts films I’d watch Saturday afternoons.  Chan and Li have good chemistry, whether in combat or playing off each other in the less serious moments.

Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate Publicity
Ni Chang (Li Bing Bing) and Jason Tripitikas (Michael A. Angarano) square off.

Since I’m not handing out awards for best costumes, I don’t tend to pay much attention to them, but the outfits are very colorful with some elaborate designs to lend an elegance sense to the film — especially for the Warlord and his army.

“Forbidden Kingdom” is surprisingly a lot of fun, with a simple good vs. evil plot, nice action sequences and a battle of the ages between two of the biggest martial art movie masters.

2012 Rating: 6. 5 out of 1o

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