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"The Forbidden Kingdom"

Directed by Rob Minkoff.
Written by John Fusco.
Starring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Liu Yifei and Michael Angarano.

Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  4/26/08


Let me make sure I'm clear on the facts here:

  1. The two biggest martial arts stars in Asia, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, have never appeared in a film together until now.

  2. Rather than make a film together with Asian filmmakers, they sign off on a film from Lionsgate, directed by the guy who gave us not only "Stuart Little", but also its world-renowned, Oscar-winning sequel, "Stuart Little 2."

  3. Rather than have the film, based on a Chinese prophecy/fantasy, be written by an Asian artist, these two megastars signed off on a script written by a gringo who gave us not only "Young Guns"--a good film in its own right--but also its world-renowned, Oscar-winning sequel, "Young Guns II."

  4. To top this all off, the film features these two megastars as side characters...their film actually stars a kid who was a small bit player in "24" last season and who also starred in "Sky High."

To say the least, "The Forbidden Kingdom" has a strange, strange making-of backstory.  But, the movie itself takes all of this and gives us a serviceable film experience, thanks to nearly non-stop action and the wire-to-wire stunt show put together by the legend in wire-fighting, Yuen Woo-Ping.  Basically, Angarano plays a South Boston youth who is literally transported to a time in either the recent or very, very distant past, where he wakes up in China and in possession of a staff that must be sent back to the Jade Empire's fortress, where the Monkey King (Li) is frozen in stone and needs the staff to release him from his imprisonment.  To get to the fortress, he'll need the help of a drunken fist master (Chan) and a mysterious assassin/instrument player (Liu Yifei), as well as a more-violent-than-normal-monk (also Li), to make the magic happen.

The fight scenes are not bad, although there are large sections where it is obvious that Chan--now in his mid-50s--is using a double for his work, a sign that this film is coming about 10 years too late.  Worse is the fact that this should be a Chan and Li film, not an Angarano film...this ultimately hurts the end product, because the two megastars should be playing a duet, not working with a four- or five-piece band.  Sure, you have to have other bit players in your movie...look at "Heat", when Pacino and De Niro worked together, you still had an all-star cast, but they were clearly in the background.  Not so, here.  And, was Michelle Yeoh or Zhang Ziyi not available for the part of Sparrow, the assassin?  The best we could do is a woman who has no other significant screen credit?

For the size of this production, it is strangely low-wattage...and, I'm still surprised that this is an American film with a majority-English dialogue track...what is the world coming to?  "The Forbidden Kingdom" isn't bad, but it is just kind of weird that this large an opportunity was left in the hands of those ill-prepared to run with it.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09