Review: The Forbidden Kingdom

It may not be summer yet, but there is mindless summer-like entertainment in the movie theaters, if you look for it. One movie that definitely qualifies and which I saw over the weekend is The Forbidden Kingdom, yet another martial arts movie but with an American flavor.

A proper martial arts movie must have a martial arts star or two in it, and this one comes with Jackie Chan. His selection may be appropriate because Enter the Dragon (1973) was arguably the first American made martial arts movie blockbuster, and Chan starred in it. Here Chan plays two roles. First, he plays a very old man who runs a Boston Chinatown pawnshop specializing in Kung Fu films. A somewhat obsessed American teenager named Jason (Michael Angarano) haunts his shop for obscure Kung Fu DVDs. While Jason would like to be a kung fu phenomenon, in fact he would have trouble mastering the Macarena. He is easily pushed around by bullies, who use his friendship with the pawnshop owner as way to execute a robbery of his store.

The pawnshop owner Old Hop just happens to have a very cool fighting stick in the back room that is seeking a way of getting back to its rightful owner in China. Jason tries to use it to defend himself in a fight. By doing so, he is suddenly transported back to China at some indeterminate time in the past. There he encounters Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), an aging kung fu expert, who just fortunately happens to speak English as a second language. When Lu Yan sees his fighting stick, he realizes it is the fighting stick of the legendary Monkey King, who apparently turned himself into stone some centuries back to avoid losing a fight. Jason does not quite realize it when he first arrives, but he has to bring the stick back to its master so The Monkey King can be resurrected and, coincidentally, he can get back to Boston. Needless to say there are plenty of others along the way who also want his fighting stick and they do not ask nicely for it. Lu Yan has the unfortunate job of trying to turn Jason into the Kung Fu master he always wanted to be. Given his ineptness, it seems an impossible task.

So this movie is yet another heroic quest movie with yet another implausible plot. Nevertheless, for Kung Fu addicts, it delivers plenty of martial arts as well as plenty of fighting moves that seem to defy the laws of gravity and which were doubtless executed with plenty of piano wire. In that sense, it is a bit like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon just of course not nearly as good. It is also a movie that does not take itself very seriously. A Kung Fu movie must come with a fighting chick and potential love interest, and this one includes Yifei Liu as Golden Sparrow who follows Jason and Lu Yan on this improbable adventure.

Sadly, I do not have much of an appreciation for Kung Fu movies but of those that I have seen this one seems average. There are many, many fights in this movie, which is fine because what plot exists is very thin so you might as well fill the time in with fights and special effects. It is all choreographed quite competently. You may find yourself like me and after the first ten minutes or so of fighting find it all rolls right over you. Thus, you may find yourself fighting sleep. I never quite nodded off though because there was enough humor in it to keep me reasonably engaged.

If you are looking to spend about two hours on a movie that will take your mind off more pressing earthbound issues like high gas prices or the skyrocketing cost of food, this movie will probably do the job. If you enjoy watching the martial arts, you will find even more to enjoy in this movie.

For me this movie while it has some humorous moments came across as largely vapid and formulaic. Since it was clear that Jason was going to succeed in overcoming evil, there was nothing resembling suspense. Clearly, you do not expect blockbusters movies in April, and this one does not come close to being in the blockbuster category. For April you could do a lot worse than The Forbidden City. Likely, you could do a lot better too.

2.7 on my 4.0 scale.

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