Film Review: The Forbidden Kingdom
April 08, 2008
Reviewed at the 2008 Phoenix Film Festival
“The Forbidden Kingdom” marks the first collaborative experience for Jackie Chan and Jet Li, two action-film marvels fans have been clamoring to see bounce off walls and pummel bad guys for decades now. Criminally, “Kingdom” is a stiff, disturbingly ill-conceived fantasy film more consumed with playing slack-jawed fanboy than telling a compelling story (or at least a competent one) worthy of these two giants.
Jason (Michael Angarano, “Sky High”) is a Boston teen feverishly in love with Asian action cinema, nursed by the local elderly Chinatown bootleg dealer. When a bully situation escalates into the shooting of the old man, Jason takes hold of an ancient Chinese staff as commanded, and is transported back in time to a fantasy world. Dazed and confused, Jason finds some clarity in the presence of Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), an immortal fighter who explains to Jason that his staff once belonged to the powerful Monkey King (Jet Li), and to save the land from an evil warlord (Collin Chou), they must return the magical weapon to him. With the help of a powerful monk (also Jet Li) and a vengeful villager (Yifei Liu), Jason treks across the treacherous landscape to restore peace, learning important kung-fu lessons along the way.
Writing a synopsis of the complex “Kingdom” is difficult enough, but imagine trying to understand the story presented when most, if not all, of the exposition is provided by Jackie Chan’s garbled English. You see, “Kingdom” wants to be a love letter to fist-first Asian cinema, shot in glorious Asian locations, and cast with top-tier Asian actors. Who better to extract the local color out of the material than the director of “Stuart Little,” the writer of “Young Guns,” and a producer who wants the entire film shot in English. Obviously, when you want crisp, precise line readings of complex mystical backstory and important character comprehension, you hire Jackie Chan and Jet Li, right? That’s not to exclude Angarano, who could use a serious tongue-ectomy before he decides to embark on another role that demands basic verbal communication.
“Kingdom” is a lousy motion picture with self-consciously ornate production value and a strange self-assurance about it that’s entirely unearned. The film is a pastiche of martial art cinema classics, with special attention paid to the production codes of the Shaw Brothers and Ronny Yu’s 1993 stunner, “The Bride with White Hair,” brewed together in an extremely Hollywoodesque potion of stupidity and noise. Rob Minkoff directs with wide-eyed abandon, assembling a highlight reel of special effects and genre tributes that he has no feel for. The entire film is lacking an agreeable rhythm, with a tedious plot that overdoses on fantasy and a cast that can’t keep up with the wordy requirements of the storytelling.
It’s clear that the film has great admiration for big-screen martial arts, yet “Kingdom” takes matters to exasperating lengths, allowing fight choreographer Woo-ping Yuen plenty of screentime to stage repetitive brawl, aided by a disconcerting amount of CGI and wobbly wire-work. Perhaps Minkoff was too giddy to notice, since it’s clear he’s having a ball juicing up the body-contact sound effects and glazing the whole film with a paused-DVD reverence that takes his attention away from the basic requirements of pace. “Kingdom” is a lethargic creation, shocking when so much of the cast has built their careers around broken-bone brevity.
The centerpiece of “Kingdom” is obviously the team of Chan and Li, and their finest screen moment is boiled down to the only opportunity the men have to speak in their (somewhat) native language. The rest of the movie is devoted to the two leaping around and losing the war on English-language lucidity. The physicality of these giants cannot be dismissed, and Minkoff gets his money’s worth when it comes to the film’s scattergun blasts of action. Both Li and Chan appear in top form, and their one-on-one contests are the picture’s lone saving grace. That is, until a scene comes along that has Li urinating on Chan’s face. Then you kind of forget the film has any merit whatsoever.
Many have anticipated a Li and Chan film for an eternity now, which makes the suffocating artificiality of “Kingdom” heartbreaking and absurd. Why hire these guys when the only purpose they serve is to embody ugly, bloated Hollywood ideas of low-budget kung fu classics? Besides gargantuan paychecks, there’s no reason. The public has waited for this pairing for too long to have it squandered on a dreary, numbing, and wickedly miscalculated offering of nonsense like “The Forbidden Kingdom.”
What the hell are you trying to say? A movie that features Jet Li peeing on Jackie Chan's face is no good? How can you call yourself a movie critic...
Posted by: Lady A | April 10, 2008 at 01:25 PM
Having read your review of TFK and having seen the film myself, I think you're dead wrong in your negativity towards this film. Curiously, I combed through your recent reviews and found that, The Ruins (SERIOUSLY... THE RUINS?!?!) aside, you have not contributed a single positive review of a film in over a month. Readers would appreciate it if you could find a way to leave your personal issues out of your critiques.
Posted by: Eel Tabah | April 11, 2008 at 04:51 AM
Yes, Eel...how dare Brian put personal opinion in a movie review! Forget the fact that's EXACTLY what a film review is...I say we burn him!
Eel Tabah is a boob.
And since you're bad with math, Eel: THE RUINS, STREET KINGS, THE VISITOR, BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, LEATHERHEADS, SHINE A LIGHT, JELLYFISH, 21, RUN FATBOY RUN, FLAWLESS, THE HAMMER, BLINDSIGHT, QUANTUM HOOPS, BOARDING GATE, DRILLBIT TAYLOR, CHAOD THEORY, and HORTON HEARS A WHO.
All positive reviews in the last month.
Posted by: Harvey | April 11, 2008 at 05:19 AM
Who gave this Brian guy the job to review films. Obviously he can't understand a simple story line and all he does is bash the martial arts material in the film. It's a fantastic movie for all ages and it is beautifully done. If you don't like martial arts like Brian, then you'll probably hate the film. But if you like an entertaining film with amazing martial arts action sequence, then this is a must see.
Posted by: Jou Jou | April 13, 2008 at 06:04 PM
Saw this last week. It's a terrible film.
A person would really have to hate martial arts to like this garbage.
The urine scene is the best part! Sums up the move very well.
Posted by: Candice Simone | April 14, 2008 at 12:51 PM
This movie is TERRIBLE. If you think this movie is fantastic YOU ARE TERRIBLE AS WELL.
The white kid with the weird mouth problem completely ruins the movie and the plot seems made up as they went along.
Posted by: Watts | June 27, 2008 at 10:35 PM
Only one question.
Do any of you guys think that YOU could do any better at martial arts, acting, directing, screenwriting, etc.?
And people wonder why humanity is so screwed up...
Posted by: Robyn | July 08, 2008 at 07:28 PM
tHIS MOVIE IS NOT TERRIBLE. YOU ARE THE ONES WHO ARE TERRIBLE. iF YOU DON'T LIKE THE MOVIE SO WHAT! NOBODY CARES! yOU CAN'T DO WHAT THE TWO CAN DO! iF YOU CAN BE MORE BETTER THAN THEM, THAT'S THE TIME YOU WILL REACT. yOUR JUST ENVIOUS ANYWAY
Posted by: Lisa | July 16, 2008 at 07:40 PM
Posted by: מישל | March 30, 2009 at 07:29 AM
shut UP lisa.
if you've never watched another wuxia/martial arts type movie, maybe you'd like this, but compared to everything else I've watched (house of flying daggers, croughinc tiger hidden dragon, Hero, A touch of Zen, etc) this film was terrible.
The fight scenes: not so impressive, in fact, a little mediocre.
the plot: garbage. The whole thing just reminded me too much of "karate kid".
And i agree, the only thing worth watching was Jet Li pissing on Jackie Chan.
Posted by: Christizzy | April 02, 2009 at 05:19 PM