The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Forbidden Kingdom

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Jacqueline Monahan

The Forbidden Kingdom

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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A new kung fu movie, hmm, let’s see. That means weak plot, frenetic, unexplained fight scenes, bad sound effects and even worse language dubbing (mouth movement that does not match what’s being said – at all).

Forget all that. This is kung fu for a new millennium, so sit back and enjoy.

Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angorano), a Boston teen and martial arts movie enthusiast is a regular at a pawn shop/video rental establishment run by Old Hop (Jackie Chan). There he finds an ornate, golden staff which the old man declares must be returned to its rightful owner. Through a series of events precipitated by a run in with a bully peer group, Jason and staff get transported back to ancient China to begin a quest to return the magical weapon, although Jason is at first clueless about his mission.

Legend has it that the Monkey King (Jet Li) lost the staff through trickery by the rival Jade Warlord, (Collin Chou) a pompous, arrogant and cruel immortal not averse to wearing eyeshadow. The Monkey King, also an immortal, has been turned to stone for many centuries, awaiting the return of the staff.

The intrepid Jason magically arrives through the gate of no gate, staff in hand, and quickly teams up with a drunken immortal kung-fu master Lu Yan (Jackie Chan again), a revenge-driven young orphaned girl, Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) and a Silent Monk (Jet Li again) all with a bone to pick with said warlord. The journey is on, with Jason training in the wildly different styles of his wise companions. Warlord ally Ni Chang, (Li Bing Bing) a white-haired witch complicates matters for the quartet – she wants immortality herself.

This fable full of vivid colors, cinematography magic, and scenic splendor features the debut pairing of martial arts icons Jackie Chan and Jet Li. I hope your neck is in good shape; you’ll be snapping it back and forth trying to keep up with these two in battle whether it’s with hordes of evil armies or each other, prompting show-off gymnastics and heroics, and wonders of one-upmanship in the two masters. One is a drunk (albeit immortal) and one is a monk. Add a punk to the mix, okay not a punk, just a displaced modern kid and you have a road trip through ancient territory reminiscent of the Karate Kid, Wizard of Oz and Lord of the Rings.

It is refreshing to hear Chan and Li conversing in their native tongue. Painterly cinematography and vibrant colors give landscapes and interiors alike an other-worldly sumptuousness that adds to the fairytale-like quality of this comedic fable of morals, honor, and rightful ownership. Alternate worlds can have alternate endings as we see, so surprises can take place (and do).

As Jason becomes enamored with Golden Sparrow, there’s a montage of his training scenes. Jason’s knowledge of kung fu movies is all theoretical, but practical skills elude him to the point of making his companions grimace. They know that this occidental tourist was foretold in prophesy to return the staff and aid him they will, but not without some eye-rolling. Jade Palace is the scene of the final battle for superiority. Needless to say, everyone gets in on the action, building toward a climactic resolution that you’ll have seen coming from the start, but will have an enjoyable time journeying toward.

Director Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little, The Lion King) intersperses comedy with continual violence and occasional cruelty in a masterful mix. Fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping (The Matrix, Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger…) skillfully uses wire acrobatics and precision to keep his combatants’ movements like frenetic puzzle pieces, straining to connect. Cinematographer Peter Pau (Shoot ‘em Up) is no stranger to fast-paced frenzy and captures not only the hyper-action of the principals, but majestic images of scenery and splendor.

Writer John Fusco (Young Guns, The Babe) keeps the quips coming. “Blue eyeshadow went out in the 1280’s!” yells Li to a vain, overly made up Jade Warlord. In another scene, and ailing Lu Yan needs wine quickly or he will perish (it’s his immortal elixir). “We will send a walking monk,” he is assured by a Medicine Monk, to which he responds, “Can’t you send a running one?”

Jackie Chan is charming and rascal-smooth as the soused but wise immortal master. He’s complemented nicely by Jet Li’s serious but mischievous Silent Monk, who is not so silent. Their introductory face-off is fast and precise and a pleasure to view, like a hyperactive ping-pong battle. These two provide a great contrast to the bumbling, innocent westerner who has literally fallen into their midst.

Michael Angorano brings an awestruck morality to the mostly bewildered Jason. His metamorphosis from start to finish is satisfying and believable.

Li Bing Bing and Yifei Liu offer no apologies for their characters’ deadly skills. Women here are strong, whether good or evil and can hold their own in a decidedly male-dominant world.

The film carries messages about the destructive force of hatred, the true meaning of immortality and the dubious wisdom of living life without attachments. Lu Yan questions if that is even living at all.

What you won’t question is your decision to visit The Forbidden Kingdom.