Set in ancient China, The Forbidden Kingdom is a mix of cinematic influences. It stops short of tiresome and of brilliance. It is quality cheese.
Nerdy Kung-Fu enthusiast Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) spends enough time at the local video store to get chummy with the owner Old Hop (Jackie Chan). When Old Hop is attacked, he entrusts Jason with a great task – return an ancient staff to the rightful owner. This magical staff transports him in time, to the time of the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) and the Monkey King (Jet Li). Soon he realizes he is way over his head, and although Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) is around to lend a hand, it may not be enough to get the task completed.
It is impossible to watch The Forbidden Kingdom without getting the feeling you’ve seen this before; and not in a bad way. I generally don’t point to the obvious influences in a movie but I am going to make an exception here because the influences are so strong. The opening scene screams The Princess Bride as a fanciful fight scene breaks the boundaries of what is realistic but in a playful and charming way. One of the main themes of the movie, learning, will take you back to 1984 and ring the long forgotten bells of Mr. Miyagi and Danielson (The Karate Kid) and may leave you to asking, “Wax on or wax off?” Some of the feelings The Forbidden Kingdom evokes reminded me of watching Bastian read of Atreyu’s epic quest in The Never Ending Story. A young white man used as a vessel for teaching Asian people what they should already know, as previously seen in The Last Samurai. Hair inspired from Aeon Flux can be spotted. Fight scene choreography and style often resembles Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Even parts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy make an appearance. This movie borrows things like set design, special effects, camera movements and military scenes. I have never seen a movie lovingly rip off so many other films and yet still manage to make it all look new and incredible.
In fact, there is nothing original about The Forbidden Kingdom but I didn’t really care. I ducked, dodged, rolled my eyes, shook my head and watched with amazement at the fight scenes as they unraveled in front of me. The fight choreography is fairytale-esque, using wires, height and width. Jackie Chan and Jet Li only fight each other once in the entire movie though, which I found disappointing, but there is no shortage of fists flying. There is even a chick-fight to look forward to.
So, why in the hell did I like it? It was mindless, familiar, butt-kicking, cherry blossom dripping fun. There are times I don’t want to think, I want to escape into a squeeze can lactose story and I am not ashamed. Right before I thought The Forbidden Kingdom would go over the edge, and shame could be involved, director Rob Minkoff pulls it back, thankfully saving the audience.
I foresee that this will be one of those movies that strike love and hate into the audience at large. See it for the fun of film and not for the anything else. Like I said at the beginning of the review – it is quality cheese.