The movie that so many martial arts fans have been waiting to see, a showdown between Jet Li and Jackie Chan has finally arrived. Unfortunately, it has arrived in the form of a slightly better than mediocre movie aimed mostly at the younger crowd.
The movie starts as Jason (Michael Angarano) wakes up and visits a DVD/Pawn Shop in the Chinatown section of Boston to purchase some of his favorite kung fu movies. The shop is run by Jackie Chan in old person's make up and if you thought that Chan was difficult to understand before through his accent, just wait until you try and hear him through his accent and "old man" voice.
(On a completely unrelated side note, I found it odd that Jason has a Sega Dreamcast and an old Nintendo 64 box set up in his room. Especially the box. Is it really worth saving 10 years later? You might say that it's set in the past, but an Xbox 360 shows up in the Old Man's pawn shop.)
Anyway, Jason is riding his bike home when some girls stop him and ask him what he's doing. He talks to them for a second, when out of nowhere, some bullies show up and see that he buys things at a shop in Chinatown. Of course, to them this means that the place will be easy to rob. (???) Things escalate out of control when the main bully SHOOTS JACKIE CHAN and then plans on shooting Jason until the mystical staff that Jason picked up in the pawn shop drags him off the roof of the building and transports him to ancient China. Immediately this takes me out of the movie, as I cannot stand movie bullies who inexplicably escalate things to realms that would never happen in reality. I understand that bullies in the real world exist, but not like this. Fortunately, the movie becomes more entertaining once they enter ancient China.
What follows is a movie that's one part "Back to the Future Part III" (or Ninja Turtles III, depending on your perspective), two parts Lord of the Rings, and two parts Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (That's 5 parts for those of you who are keeping track.)
Jason is then tasked by Jackie Chan to take the staff to the Warlord's castle and release the imprisoned "Monkey King" (Jet Li) in order to get home. Along the way they pick up a monk (Jet Li, again) and a young woman named Sparrow. The problem is that you really never get a sense of any sort of danger or sense of foreboding, despite the attempts to highlight the story of Sparrow, who is seeking vengeance against the warlord for killing her parents. Oh yeah, she also inexplicably only speaks about herself in the second person.
Nor do you fully understand why Jason is so anxious to get home. He doesn't seem like he has any friends and his only excitement in life is watching old Kung Fu movies. There's also the fact that the last time he was conscious in his world, someone was holding a gun to his head and he was falling off a building. Personally, I don't know if I'd necessarily want to go back to that. But I guess that's just me.
The fight scenes are pretty good and show themselves to be entertaining enough, especially between Jet Li and Jackie Chan, but the reasons for which they all fight never really rise above mediocre.
Coupled with the fact that some of the bad guys make INCREDIBLY stupid decisions given the prospect of a "prophecy", the movie can't shake its failures despite the attempts to rise above these inherent shortcomings. The movie reads almost like a cliff's notes to an Asian "Lord of the Rings" (minus the mystical creatures) and in fact certain imagery looks almost like it was taken straight from the film trilogy.
Yet, despite it all, "The Forbidden Kingdom" does prove itself to be an entertaining way to spend two hours if there is nothing else to do. I can applaud what they were trying to accomplish but unfortunately the whole is worth less than the sum of its parts