The Forbidden Kingdom
Starring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Michael Angarano. Rated PG.
True film stars have a certain charisma and rightness that separates the Steven Seagals from the Jeff Speakmans, the Johnny Depps from the Richard Griecos, the Jenna Jamesons from the”¦whoevers. What is also true is that these types don’t necessarily mix. Although the historic pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li should be an occasion of joy, all I could think of, as the theatre darkened, was City Heat, the 1984 matchup of action icons Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood. You don’t remember it because it sucked. Just last year, Li himself starred with high-kicking Jason Statham in the trifling War.
Happily, The Forbidden Kingdom destroys all these fears like so many arrows meeting a magical fighting stick. The movie sees Chan and Li in their characteristic personae—drunken master and fighting monk—which are sufficiently different to give each other room. Of course, their fighting (masterminded by Woo-Ping Yuen) is superb. One wishes this movie had been made 20 years ago, at the height of their powers.
Despite their billing, neither Chan nor Li is the protagonist of the story. That would be one Michael Angarano as Jason, a Boston teen obsessed with chop-socky flicks. While purchasing DVDs in Chinatown, Jason is beset by muggers and knocked unconscious. He awakens in the China of his dreams, a land of immortals, warlords, and witches—each of whom is eager to continue the beatings. Jason, you see, knows no kung fu. Until he meets up with a drunken master and a fighting monk”¦
You could criticize The Forbidden Kingdom for really being about the white kid, or for being silly, or for being too gory for kids. I was having too much fun to care; besides, Angarano is good. And Rob Minkoff joins the shortlist of non–Hong Kong directors who know how to shoot martial arts, while providing more heart and texture than usually seen in the genre.