Tuesday, April 29, 2008

FORBIDDEN KINGDOM: Yankee In Kungfu Land

FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (kungfu fantasy)

Cast: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano and Liu Yifei
Director: Rob Minkoff
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? The first-ever pairing up of kungfu legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li (picture), of course. This is the main 'bait' to get fans of the two Asian superstars to the cinema. The movie is a fantasy road trip into the Sixties' world of martial arts flicks, loosely based on the Monkey King tales.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Jason (Michael Angarano) is a Boston teenager who is obsessed with old Chinese martial arts flicks. He gets his supply of such DVDs at a pawn shop operated by Old Hop (Jackie Chan). One day, a local gang bullies Jason into forcing Old Hop into opening the shop so that they can rob him. In the ensuing struggle, Hop is shot and Jason finds himself in possession of magical staff that belonged to the mythical Monkey King (Jet Li). "Return it to the owner," the old man tells Jason.

Yes, somehow the stick transports Jason into mythical China where he meets up with Lu Yan (Chan), the Drunken Kungfu Master, a gorgeous lass called Little Sparrow (Liu Yifei) and a 'Silent Monk' (Jet Li) in his quest to return the staff to the Monkey King.

HITS & MISSES: With the action sequences choreographed by the legendary Yuen Wo Ping, we had expected more gruelling duels and battles. However, what we get looks pretty tame compared to Yuen's earlier works. A lot of the fighting scenes are in a blur and the 'wire-fu' is obvious as the crew had not tried to hide it. Admittedly, it is fun watching Jackie and Jet in verbal banter, using 'mangled English' and fists. This culminates in a controversial scene where Jet Li pees on Jackie!

Now, if Minkoff had meant "Forbidden Kingdom" to be a 'Jason in Kungfuland'-type of tribute to the kungfu genre, then it succeeds. There is a sense of nostalgia in watching Jackie reprise (or did he ham out?) his Drunken Master role but the most painful part is listening to their lines in English. Much of Jet Li's lines sounds like gibberish and Minkoff and crew make no attempt to improve them.

THE LOWDOWN: A nostalgic trip into the old-style Monkey God fantasy but don't expect too much.


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