You remember Wizard of Oz, right? A young girl is caught up in cataclysmic events that transport her to a whimsical world where, because she is an outsider, she can see things more clearly, thus learning valuable lessons about herself, so that when she does finally make it back to her own world, she is better able to cope.
It's a timeless tale, a classic from the word go. So, remove Judy Garland and substitute Michael Angarano, yank Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, and substitute Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Yifei Liu, and you've got yourself The Forbidden Kingdom, the story of a young man transported back in time to a China ruled by an evil war lord, and with the help of martial arts experts Chan and Li (with Liu thrown in to make things look real pretty) defeats the bad guy and finds his way home stronger and wiser than when he left.
Great movie? Yes and no. It won't be one of the films nominated for the Best Picture at the Oscars, but it's definitely worth the price of admission to the theater. It's clever, it's fast paced, and it is an extraordinarily pretty film. There are of course the ladies of the film who are certainly easy to look at. (Li Bingbing, who plays a kind of Wicked Witch of the Far East, could have my pretty any day, and my little dog, too.) The film showcases some wonderful natural beauty from China, and the sets for the war lord's palace are spectacularly colorful and ornate. Realistic? Doubt it. This is after all a "kung fu" movie with the martial artist sailing about the screen as if jet propelled. It's fantasy. And it's fun.
If I have a bone to pick, it's with the people who do the ratings for motion pictures. This movie was rated PG-13, and I have to wonder why. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, there is no nudity or even suggestive behavior, the language almost wholesome (one character does say "piss ant"), and while there is plenty of fighting, this is all cartoon violence. There is a minimal amount of blood and no gore.
I hope this film does well at the box office, and I hope the rest of the summer's movies are going to be as good.
About a week and a half ago, I was looking at the movies coming up at our favorite movie theater, and spotted Jackie Chan's name. And while I am not usually thrilled to watch movie trailers, it is a known fact in this household that I will pretty much watch anything that Jackie Chan is in. I would probably watch a full-length movie of Jackie Chan napping in a lawn chair. So I clicked on The Forbidden Kingdom link, and watched the trailer. The next chance I got, I announced to Bernie that we were going to the movies this weekend and we were going to see The Forbidden Kingdom.
"What's it about?" Bernie asked me.
"Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan with long hair. Oh, and I think Jet Li is in it, too."
"No, what's the story about?"
"Jackie Chan's character and some other people. And lots of kung fu."
"You don't know what the story is about, but you want to go to this movie. Fine, we'll go. Does it at least have some pretty women in it?"
"I think so. But I know it has Jackie Chan."
Needless to say, in The Forbidden Kingdom, Jackie Chan is, as always, cute enough to want to bring along home. Perhaps I am biased, but he even managed to make falling off a donkey into the dirt look simply adorable.
However, I should probably talk at least a little bit about the movie.
The mythical Monkey King, (played astonishingly well by Jet Li) a benevolent warrior-ruler, has been tricked by an evil Immortal, the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) into putting down his magical staff, and has been imprisoned in stone. But before he is defeated, he flings the staff out into the Middle Kingdom ... and beyond.
A young man finds it, and is thrown into the battle between good and evil; his task is to return the staff and free the Monkey King.
Along the way, he meets the drunken kung fu master Lu Yan (the ever-delightful Jackie Chan), a grim and dour monk (Jet Li again), and a beautiful, dangerous girl named Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu). Jason, the young man, (Michael Angarano) is enamored of kung fu, and now he must learn the martial art, in order to stay alive and fulfill his quest. The four adventurers must learn to rely on one another; none alone is a match for the enemy.
Visually, the movie is really, really beautiful. From bamboo forest to desert, from fight choreography to special effects, it was a feast for the eyes. Costuming was exquisite, the sets sumptuous.
When Jet Li and Jackie Chan squared off for a one-on-one kung fu battle, I thought that would be the highlight of the movie. But true to the Quest Genre, the fulfillment scene was simply mind-boggling, and though I will, as soon as I own the DVD, watch Jet Li and Jackie Chan knock each other for a loop again and again, the rest of the film will still be irresistible.
Sitting watching the credits roll, listening to the music, thinking about the story, the word that kept coming to my mind was "Sweet." Unfortunately, in this American culture, the word "sweet" has come to have connotations of smarmy, saccharine, dopey, immature, babyish... at best, people say "Sweet" to mean wickedly profitable. When I think about the sweetness of The Forbidden Kingdom, though, I think of the clarity of a pure melodic line. In this movie, there is Goodness and there is Evil, and it is Good that is noble, and pure, and must be striven for, and that we have to stand against Evil, even at the risk of our own lives.
My recommendation: throw your jaded view of the world into the hamper and let yourself fall headlong into this movie.
Just, don't, for goodness' sake, try those stunts at home.
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