Running along the familiar territory of a dozen martial arts movies in which the helpless victim turns underdog, Rob Minkoff's Jackie Chan and Jet Li starrer The Forbidden Kingdom is no exception. This martial arts epic comprises many time tested clichés yet provides an enjoyable watch for kung-fu fans.
The movie begins with the legend of the immortal Monkey King imprisoned in stone by the evil Jade War Lord. Many years later the Monkey King's fighting staff comes into the possession of Jason Tripitikas, a nerdy kid in Boston who also happens to be a die hard kung-fu fan.
While being beaten up by bullies in the back alley Jason is transported back to ancient China where he is expected to return the staff to its rightful owner.
During his quest he meets martial arts expert Lu Yan and is aided by the vengeful Golden Sparrow, a mysterious monk who has his own allegiance to the Monkey King and an orphaned female warrior seeking revenge against the warlord for killing her parents.
Lu and the monk becomes Jason's kung-fu teachers and prepares him for battle as they journey to the warlord's far away kingdom. Although he seems hopeless at the art at first glance, Jason gradually learns how to take command and even manages to scare away the bullies who had him under their thumb back at home. The team even has to battle with a white-haired witch named Ni Chin who is seeking a means of becoming immortal, before facing their final opponent, the evil Jade.
These kind of storyline has existed since cinema began and it seems a shame that the team could not come up with a novel twist to the tale. Not only is the ending predictable but so is the beginning and middle. Make a few alterations to some scenes and introduce new characters to the stereotyped martial arts movies and you will get a picture of what to expect even before you have watched the The Forbidden Kingdom.
Chan manages to earn a few laughs as the drunken martial arts teacher, Lu Yan. Despite his serious avatar Li too manages to dish out some memorable moments.
Sadly Michael Angarano, the protagonist of the movie, overacts and is too goofy to be taken seriously. Collin Chou makes an admirable Jade Warlord. Liu Yifei and Li Bing Bing should be commended for the parts that they play as Golden Sparrow and Ni Chin. One cannot help but wish that they should have been given more screen space.
Viewers will be able to recall instances from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Karate Kid. Chan's costume and behaviour even makes us recall Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates Of The Caribbean series. There are mystery ridden moments which resemble moments from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings.
The background scenes are surprisingly good with lots of detail, colours and light control. Though the story drags on at some points these minor details keep us interested on what is happening on the screen.
The fight scenes too are carried out well with grace and energy. Yuen Woo-ping deserves kudos for his choreography because he inserts diverse moves into the scenes.
The maiden battle between Chan and Li is especially effective and creates the awestruck effect that the team vies for.
The film's strength is the fact that it brings the much vied Chan-Li combination on screen. Their double acting roles are an added bonus.
However these few facts are not sufficient to grade the movie a success for if not for the Hong Kong icons the movie would not have been worth a second glance.
Ruwini JAYAWARDANA - Daily News