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April 21, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom Review *No Spoilers*

Like the kung-fu movies for which it is an homage there's nothing too "deep" in The Forbidden Kingdom. But that's not the point of the movie. It's fun and surprisingly diverting for all 1 hour and 45 minutes. More than that, it's gorgeous in both camera-work and choreography and even casual fans of kung-fu flicks (and even video games!) will spot some of the more recognizable signature moves. It topped this weekend's box office by making just a bit more than $20 million.

Read my spoiler free review below the fold.

The story is straightforward due to a very clunky few minutes of exposition near the beginning which explain the backstory. A teenage kung-fu film fanatic (Michael Angarano, recognizable from Will & Grace) is mysteriously transported through time and space to the ancient Middle Kingdom, where he is meant to fulfill prophecy and end the evil reign of the Jade Warlord. To help him on his mission, he meets two kung-fu masters, the Drunken Immortal (Jackie Chan) and the Silent Monk (Jet Li). He's also helped on his journey by the gorgeous Golden Sparrow (newcomer to the West Liu Yifei). They fight. A lot.

It takes an adjustment at the beginning to watch an adventure movie that doesn't have any lurking conventions like the Stunning Twist or The Patsy. But once you get into its naive candor it's a lot of fun. The dialogue is frequently witty even though it's not always delivered convincingly. Li and Chan have great timing and Chan has obviously picked up some skills from his time with Chris Tucker.

The film is visually stunning, with fantastic costume details and panoramic landscapes. In fact, the landscapes do the most to convince the viewer that you're watching mythology and not history. Nothing on Earth ever looked that good. Along with Harry Gregson-Williams' score, which is faintly reminiscent of his work on the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it's easy to sit back and get lost. Speaking of mythology, fans of the Chinese epic Journey to the West will feel right at home with the archetypical characters--most notably the Monkey King--and frequent fights.

Of course, the whole point of the movie is the fighting. Believe me, there's a lot of it. In fact, it ends up the movie's strongest and weakest point. Much of it is breathtaking, especially the one big face-off between Chan and Li and the film's climatic battle. But a lot of the other fights suffer from the wire-fu tedium of the second Matrix film. It's not surprising; it's the same choreographer, and as with that film, you may find yourself wondering when they're going to JUST GET ON WITH IT.

The movie is PG-13, but I'm not sure why. There's no language and very little blood (one shooting, one stabbing that I recall showed blood). The most disturbing image in the movie is two out-of-focus bodies hanging from a tree during a flashback. I would classify it as kid-friendly, except of course every little boy in the world is going to come out of the theater with fists and feet flying in faux-fu frenzy. Be warned. There were several children in the audience with us and neither they nor their parents seemed disturbed by anything.

Overall, I had a good time, but there's no compelling reason to see this one in theaters unless you're especially fond of kung-fu, Chan, or Li. I give it 6/10.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:11 AM

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