I was very skeptical about The Forbidden Kingdom. First of all, just because two people are martial arts stars doesn’t mean they should costar together. Jet Li and Jackie Chan have very different styles. Second, if you're going to go to the trouble of utilizing both their talents, making it a kids' movie seems to really be watering it down. Still, The Forbidden Kingdom overcame both those problems and I couldn't be more pleased. It really is the ultimate martial arts movie.
Review: The Forbidden Kingdom
You have to get through a little bit of modern day setup with old legends and bullies and racist slurs, but they do that quickly. Michael Angarano plays it real and he seems to know he's in a privileged position, so he sets it all up so we can get there, but never draws attention to himself.
These are the best fights we'll see all year. They're totally Yuen Woo-Ping fights, but the perfect mix of Li and Chan's unique styles. Thank God Jackie Chan is still doing this. He brings back his drunken style, which even in a milder form is awesome. There's not much prop work but the fast and graceful moves more than make up for that. I mean, he does drunken fist on Jet Li! Oh my God, it's so awesome!
Chan also adapts to the aerial wirework style more akin to Li's work. Li is at his most charismatic as the silly, playful Monkey King. The fights are nice and long, full length choreographies, certainly making this Jackie Chan's best American movie.
The training montages are classic too. The masters put Angarano through all the animal styles and torture him with splits. Every classic element of martial arts movies is here. This is a movie made by and for people who know the genre.
There's kind of no reason for the modern day part. The story is fine with just the history. I guess they couldn't have a white kid in it unless he came from present day America. But having him talk about fighting video games and plug the DVD catalog of Asian vendors works against the film.
Block that out though and The Forbidden Kingdom is a wonderful, magical story. It's got authentic suspense as they really build up dire consequences and struggles to attain goals. Mostly, it's just fun. Li and Chan get it and they play up the most ridiculous aspects of their characters. Now I'm convinced this is the team up we've been waiting for.