Friday, April 18, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

“I’ll kill you witch!”
“Not if I kill you first orphan bitch!”

Based on one of the four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, Journey to the West, this new adaptation tells the story of a Jason (Michael Angarano) a young boy from Boston who finds himself thrust into a magical world and charged with returning the golden staff to the Monkey King (Jet Li) thus freeing him from his stone prison and freeing the land from the tyranny of the man who turned him into a statue, the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).

Along the way to seek the wizard, um, I mean Warlord, Jason encounters companions who journey with him to help him on his quest including a drunken master (Jackie Chan), a beautiful girl hell-bent on revenge (Yifei Liu), and a monk (Jet Li).

Together this small band of rebels travels through forests and deserts across the yellow brick road to reach the fortress, take on the Jade Army, led by the Warlord’s assassin (Li Bing Bing), and defeat Cobra Kai, um, I mean release the Monkey King.

The more mystical and religious elements of the original tale are played down in favor of a more mythological, adventure, and coming of age tale which will remind you of countless films. Those familiar to the original tale itself might have the upper hand here, especially since early on the film gives Jackie Chan the charge to explain the situation in one long narrative sequence. Not a great idea. I caught most of it, but I’m pretty sure subtitles would help this scene in particular, and a few scenes throughout the film, where actors struggle with their English lines.

The film itself is a nice romp, even if it is a little too familiar (I found myself humming “Where Off to See the Wizard” once or twice, and looking around for flying monkeys and William Zabka). It should draw attention not only for it’s retelling of a classic tale but for the pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the same film. The pair’s first scene together is an all out brawl in an empty monastery which is one of the film’s best fight sequences.

Although fun, the film does have it’s flaws. The production value of the film is hit and miss throughout. In some cases the lavish detail is impressive, at other times (such as Li Bing Bing’s white wig which looks like someone picked it out of a bargain bin a week after Halloween) it is not.

The film is also cursed with some clunky dialogue that will have anyone over the age of seven rolling their eyes at times (such as the quote at the top of this review). The actors do what they can with the sillier moments and pull them off quite well - especially Chan and Li.

Although a tad flawed the film is still enjoyable, and many of it’s issues can be laughed off as cheesy over-the-top indulgences. If you go in expecting something akin to The Wizard of Oz meets The Karate Kid you should have fun. Kids should enjoy the tale and adults should find enough here worth the ticket price for the fight sequences and a chance to see Chan and Li on the screen together.

No comments: