The Forbidden Kingdom
This martial arts technique is for discerning adults only.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/18/2008
Director: Rob Minkoff
Cast: Michael Angarano, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Yifei Liu, Collin Chou, Bingbing Li

Have you ever had that dream where you wake up in another country, magically understand the language and go on to fulfill an ancient prophecy, bringing peace to the land? Really? My dreams are never that good.

In any case, “The Forbidden Kingdom” is a hodgepodge of Asian martial arts films, “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court” and “The Neverending Story”. And I don’t necessarily mean any of that in a negative way. There is a decent amount of fun to be had.

This is the first pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Martial Arts film fans have been awaiting this combination for a long time – though I think all of us would have preferred it happen 10 years ago and by a director who didn’t have the “Stuart Little” franchise and “Haunted Mansion” under his less than impressive belt.

The good news is that they have an extended fight scene, the best one in the film to no great surprise. The bad news is that neither of them really get any good fights from that point on, as the final battle, especially, is an amalgamation of wire work and pretty standard stuff.

The fight choreographer is the man all Hollywood studios turn to when they want an American director to bring some Asian flair, Woo-ping Yuen (“The Matrix”, “Kill Bill”). Though this time, in lieu of being tasked with making Keanu “WHOA” Reeves look coordinated, he has to make the gawky Michael Angarano a kung fu master. If you’re unfamiliar with Angarano, that’s because you’ve missed the kiddie superhero flick, “Sky High” or the recent art-house release of “Snow Angels“.

As the film progresses and Angarano’s skillz (yes, with a z) improve, he goes on to ruin any hope he had of making the audience believe he could defend himself from a bully at the beach by running around without a shirt on. I think that part of it was intended as humor but that’s all it came off as and I just found myself in hysterics thinking of this scrawny kid having any martial arts prowess, no matter who trained him.

In many ways, the film is an adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz”. Our hero falls into a strange land, befriends a few strangers who are going the same way, unravels the mystery of a legendary and mysterious character and gains the ability to go back home. Getting back to why I felt this had a “Neverending Story” quality to it – Angarano is able to use his newfound fighting skills to beat up a bully in an alleyway; the very same bully whose actions lead our hero to the start of his quest. Sadly, there is no luck dragon and he doesn’t dump the kid in the dumpster, but I appreciate the mental tangent nonetheless.

Perhaps the funniest but about this angle is that the bully is basically this Emo, Fall Out Boy wannabe who for some reason knows martial arts. Even with a gun in his hand, I’m not sure anyone would do much more than piss themselves with laughter if a real confrontation arose.

Boiling it all down, none of the acting is going to impress you, it’s not like you were expecting a solid script and the action varies between passable, lackluster and absurdly funny. But “The Forbidden Kingdom” kept me entertained and although there are plenty of moments that will have you cringing in embarrassment or laughing at things that may not be intended to be that funny, there’s definitely enough here to give it a 3 out of 5. If nothing else, it does have Jet Li fighting Jackie Chan … all martial arts fans have been wanting that for a long, long time.