The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Genre: Martial Arts and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: April 18th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Rob Minkoff Actors: Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Juana Collignon, Morgan Benoit, Deshun Wang, Collin Chou, Yifei Liu, Li Bing Bing




ow long have audiences waited to see Jackie Chan and Jet Li duke it out against one another on the big screen? How could their long-awaited collaboration be anything but smashingly sensational? The only way to embarrassingly shatter fans’ admiration for Jackie Chan and Jet Li, finally dueling together onscreen (with a wide array of masterfully choreographed fight sequences) would be to put them in a fantastical Tolkienesque world, brimming with immortals, prophecies, CG-laden magic, and time travel. So that’s what “The Forbidden Kingdom” does.

Kung-fu-consumed American teen Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) must travel back in time to reunite a golden staff with its rightful owner – the Monkey King, who has been imprisoned in stone for 500 years. In his quest to return order to the ancient Chinese world into which he has teleported, Jason is aided by Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), an immortal who uses wine and drunken fighting to gain the upper hand; Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a young female warrior whose parents were killed by the injurious ruler known as the Jade Warlord; and Silent Monk (Jet Li), a guardian who is also on a mission to retrieve the staff. But the path is fraught with danger, particularly at the Temple of the Five Elements, where the Jade Warlord resides with his massive army.

All of the colorful and chaotic characters in the film are based on Chinese mythology, adventure pulps, and classic kung fu movies, but the average viewer isn’t going to notice. One would have to be as obsessed as the ambivalent main character to recognize the borrowed concepts from ancient Chinese legend and lore. What audiences will undoubtedly notice is the extreme goofiness of the premise, all of the plot holes that typically accompany such fantasy fare, and the many quick zooms on ominous faces and statuesque martial arts stances. Viewers might also question why Jason already knows how to ride a horse, or why a Jet Li/Jackie Chan picture actually stars a scrawny American boy.

Further drenched in eye-rolling fantasy jargon (such as chi magic) and grossly stereotypical personas, the storyline is somewhat reminiscent of “The Wizard of Oz” or “Black Knight” (the Martin Lawrence film) insomuch as the lead character journeys to a fantasy world designed to match an overactive imagination. Fueled by fanciful yearnings for excitement, Jason explores lavish settings, including a merciless desert, luscious rainforests, and humongous stone temples, where Woo-Ping Yuen’s stunning fight choreography can look very impressive. In an unbelievable world, the fighting becomes equally farfetched, so wire-fu sequences tend to overtake realistic brawling, constantly breaking up the marvel of watching two legendary martial arts masters finally square off.

The costumes are divine, the snowy-haired Asian-Jessica-Alba demoness is an interesting nemesis, and comedic training montages are abundant. But “The Forbidden Kingdom forgets to focus on entertainment. Lu Yan remarks that to be remembered is true immortality – which makes it a crying shame that this pitiable film will probably be the only thing to remind audiences of Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s only theatrical joint effort.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10