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Jet Li and Jackie Chan Rescued by Awkward Caucasian Teen

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A Review of The Forbidden Kingdom DVD

Recipe for Forbidden Kingdom: Take one part Harry Potter, one part Lord of the Rings, and one part Karate Kid; mix and heat until lukewarm; label as “Asian fusion” cuisine. Serves five hundred million.

Jet Li in Forbidden Kingdom
Young Jason struggles in a low horse stance, building kungfu as his teacher Lu Yan stands by. “Go deeper,” Lu demands, “You must taste bitter before sweet.”

Your reaction to this single training scene, will most likely mirror your opinion of The Forbidden Kingdom as a whole.

Is Lu Yan’s instruction a tasty morsel of ancient Eastern wisdom? Or is it a sugary counterfeit, the cinematic equivalent of General Tso’s chicken? Chi ku, or “taste bitter”, is a common phrase in schools of Chinese kung fu, but let me tell you: a promise of future sweetness is never made.

I approached The Forbidden Kingdom as a longtime fan of the kung fu movie genre, and of Jackie Chan and Jet Li in particular. These two men are brilliant physical performers, and I held high expectations for their first on-screen collaboration.

While I found The Forbidden Kingdom mildly entertaining overall, the action was disappointing. This isn’t Jet or Jackie’s best work; honestly, it isn’t even their best American work.

Does this criticism seem unfair? Jackie Chan is old enough to join the AARP, after all, and Jet Li is definitely past his prime as a wushu performer. My complaint is not that they have grown older and slower, but that the choreography and editing are tailored to hide these weaknesses, instead of showcasing strengths.

When you haven’t got speed, use timing. When you haven’t got strength, use position. Every decent martial artist knows this—so why don’t the performances in Forbidden Kingdom reflect it?

Jet Li and Jackie Chan in Forbidden Kingdom

Why hire top talent like Jet and Jackie, and film them like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, relying on hidden wires and constant camera angle changes? I really don’t understand it. Where are all the long shots we have been waiting a decade to see?

By way of contrast, kungfu actors Kwan Tak-Hing and Lau Kar-Leung never failed to entertain, despite their relatively advanced age. Whatever they lacked in agility, they made up for with potency. Personally, I would love to see Jackie Chan’s creative interpretation of “old man’s kungfu”, rather than a failed attempt to recreate performances from twenty years ago.

At the end of a typical American movie, the hero vanquishes the forces of evil and gets the girl, whereas in the typical Chinese movie, the hero struggles and dies. With all due respect for our young Jason, I would have preferred a Chinese-style ending for The Forbidden Kingdom, allowing a greater focus on Li and Chan in the inevitable sequel. Forget about the white boy with the magic wand, and tell us more about the Monkey King.

Categories: Martial Arts News · Reviews · Video

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Daisy // Sep 28, 2008

    Respectfully, I have to point out to you that because of your martial artist status you have been unnecessarily harsh on this movie. It was sweet – and fun – and INTENDED for a more general audience. I thought Li and Chan played well off of each other – there was a comedic element that worked far better than I was expecting… I think your expectations were perhaps too high – disappointment = expectations – reality. Yes? Peace…

  • 2 Jay Gischer // Sep 28, 2008

    “When you haven’t got speed, use timing. When you haven’t got strength, use position.”

    I have a quibble with this, Chris. In my opinion, timing beats speed. It isn’t the slow man’s substitute. Position beats strength. Position PLUS strength is better, but a good position will neutralize strength, make it irrelevant.

    But I don’t necessarily think this will translate well to film.

  • 3 Chris // Sep 28, 2008

    Daisy, I think my expectations were set by seeing all their best movies, not by practicing martial arts. Compare Jackie Chan’s drunken boxing in Drunken Master II to the version in Forbidden Kingdom, for example. If you read the IMDB or Amazon reviews, you’ll see that many non-martial-artists, Chinese and not, rated this movie poorly.

    Jay, I do not say that timing is worth less than speed, I mean that older men have no choice.

  • 4 Daisy // Sep 28, 2008

    I just think you may be inclined to really nitpick it instead of enjoy it – it wasn’t really meant to be a martial arts flick – not in the traditional hard-core sense of the word…

    Well – I really liked it. Guess that’s why they make so many different kinds of movies, right?

    Peace…

  • 5 Chris // Sep 28, 2008

    Daisy, I’m glad that you liked it. You may like Battle Creek Brawl and Project A even more.

  • 6 James // May 26, 2009

    I was actually disappointed that there was not as much martial arts in the movie. I don’t at all expect it to be like a Hong Kong film cuz it’s not… but I think there was way too much special effects. But by far most disappointing of all is the white kid in the movie, I mean come on! The fans have been waiting decades for a Jet and Jackie movie, a martial arts movie, not two of the biggest names in martial arts cinema playing as background for this white boy who is neither a good actor much less a martial artist.

  • 7 faith // Mar 19, 2010

    i am so glad the forbidden kingdom movie for the first time.
    and I’m really thankful to my teacher for showing to our class this movie

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