Jackie and Jet join forces against evil—at last

By James Conway

[img id=”80489″ align=”alignleft”] The plot of Forbidden Kingdom is not that important. More significant is that the film features Jackie Chan and Jet Li, two of the greatest kung fu artists since Sonny Chiba and Bruce Lee, sharing the same screen for the first time—for American audiences, anyway.

The film in a nutshell is about a young man named Jason (Michael Angarano), a South Boston native who is addicted to purchasing bad kung fu movies from a local pawnshop. One day some bad guys rob the shop, and Jason is forced to protect the owner’s sacred relic, a golden rod that magically transports him to some East Asian–themed fantasyland. Here he has to fulfill some complicated task to help a monkey king defeat a dark lord, reunite an orphan with her parents, and help Jackie Chan restore his immortality. Or something like that.

This combination of events is a lackluster knockoff of every other fantasy quest tale ever told, but it rises to a surprisingly entertaining crescendo. The film does suffer from a lack of earnestness and originality; many of its tricks and tales have been seen in a number of better films, from The Lord of the Rings trilogy to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Moreover, the plot falls into some old-school Hollywood clichés, including wise Asian tutors and naïve young white heroes who eventually get better at kung fu than their Asian counterparts. It doesn’t help that the actors playing the two adolescent parts give somewhat wooden performances. Especially irksome is the accent of the main character, an alleged Bostonian who sounds more like a New Yorker, which angers this Bostonian profusely. Fortunately, Angarano redeems himself in a scene in which he tenderly compares a cloud to a green monster and reminisces about Fenway Park—pronouncing the “r” for some strange reason. Poor accents and acting aside, the film does pack a big punch and is saved by its main stars: Chan and Li.

While the Narnia and Lord of the Rings knockoffs—destroying magical items in volcanoes, for instance—are unwelcome distractions that weaken the film, there is much to recommend about the movie—primarily, the wonderful comedic timing and talents of Chan, who takes his combination of kung fu and slapstick to wonderful heights. We are also joined by Li, who more than makes up for his lack of dialogue with several impressive stunts. The main villains are played impressively by unknowns, especially the devilish young witch who can make mincemeat out of her opponents using only her hair. There are surprisingly hilarious moments between the two kung fu legends, and the chemistry between the two carries the entire film. So when in need of some high-powered, fantasy-themed, action-packed comic relief, Forbidden Kingdom is the ticket.