Lionsgate // 2008 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 1st, 2008
The battle for eternity is the fantasy of a lifetime.
The kung fu team-up of the century/decade/month makes its debut in an insufferable martial arts epic.
Our story begins with Jason (Michael Angarano), a dork from Boston who sits by himself in his room watching kung fu movies all day. One day he finds himself indirectly responsible for the shooting death of an elderly Chinese pawn shop owner and yada yada yada he ends up in ancient China with Jackie Chan.
With the Jade Warlord running around freaking everybody out, it's up to Jason and his kung fu action pals to free the Monkey King (Jet Li) from his mystical confines using a supernatural magic staff. But before they can do that, Jackie Chan and Jet Li fight each other in a huge action sequence, which moderately offsets the incredible lameness of this movie.
After years and years of waiting, action fans that have longed for a big-screen showdown between Jet Li and Jackie Chan finally get...this? A kiddie fantasy where Jet Li runs around in an outfit from Cats and shakes his butt at people? Really?
As you can probably tell, I'm not terribly enamored with this production, and, in the interest of full disclosure, my expectations were low going into this review. The theatrical trailers made the film look as appealing as a prostate exam. But I was open to having my mind changed. Jet Li and Jackie Chan provided me hours of chop-socky satisfaction during my formative years, so I was more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt -- which promptly evaporated moments into the opening credits where Jet Li, clad in his fur make-up (looking not unlike that sketch of David St. Hubbins as a Lion) bounced around on wires on a CG landscape, laughing like a schoolgirl and smacking the bad guys in their silly little faces.
And then it gets worse when we first meet Jason, one of the more irritating adolescent protagonists in recent memory, and, yes, that includes Stephanie Tanner. The guy gets off to a rough start when he pusses out in front of some local street toughs and leads them to his old pal's pawn shop, which leads to a random act of a gun violence. So, within like 10 minutes, the kid we're supposed to identify with and cheer for has defenseless Chinese geezer blood on his hands.
And then it gets a little better when Jackie Chan shows up and unleashes some drunken kung fu whoop-ass.
And then it gets worse when he tells Jason about the Monkey King and Jet Li is back in his Doodlebops get-up.
And then it gets significantly better when Jet Li as a different character (Silent Monk) throws down with Jackie Chan in the ballyhooed fight scene we've all been waiting for and it is indeed the bee's knees -- long, varied, fairly grounded and expertly choreographed thanks to Master Yeun Woo Ping.
Unfortunately that represents the high water mark of The Forbidden Kingdom as the remainder of the film is concerned with training montages, back stories to uninteresting characters and a hyperactive final action sequence featuring multiple fights (including the obligatory girl villain versus girl hero brouhaha) that never once feels exciting.
Mainly, though, it's just this Jason kid I can't stand. For crying out loud, he references Virtua Fighter 2, utters such lines as "Damn, this desert is hot," and talks to hot Chinese warrior princess about the Red Sox. The Red Sox!
On the brighter side of things, the Blu-ray treatment is a homerun. The picture quality is rich and detailed in its 2.40:1 habitat. As disappointed as I was with the feature, I will grant it this -- it's beautifully shot and full of striking color, which, of course, has the potential to translate into a stunner of an HD transfer. Potential realized. The 7.1 DTS HD mix delivers on all levels: the score, while playful and saccharine, has depth and the surround work is active. The Forbidden Kingdom is a bona fide visual and audio treat and would be a great selection to impress your non-HD friends, except for the fact that the movie itself is a massive letdown.
Tons of extras on-disc: director Rob Minkoff and writer John Fusco's feature commentary, a robust picture-in-picture featuring onset footage and interviews (requires 1.1 Profile), featurettes on the "kung fu dream team," the femme fatales, filming in China, the mythology of the Monkey King, a blooper reel, deleted scenes, previsualizations and a Molog Live community application (requires 2.0 Profile).
Not to pile on, but this PG-13 outing features some profanity and violence that seem out of place for a family film.
This one's a crushing disappointment. But it looks and sounds fantastic and has more bonus materials than you can shake a stick at.
This kingdom is condemned.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Takes
* Digital Copy