Ken's Review: The Forbidden Kingdom - A Remake of Last Action Hero?
by Ken Evans
April 18, 2008
After a 45 minute drive through a snow storm to make it to a screening of The Forbidden Kingdom, the last thing I expected was to be transported back to 1993. Nevertheless, there I was, sitting in a theater with the overwhelming feeling that I had already seen this movie a long time ago... then it hit me. I had seen this film already back in 1993 but it had a different name - Last Action Hero. I know it's a bit of a jump to relate the two films, but that was the overwhelming feeling I got while I watched it. If Last Action Hero is the movie I thought of while watching Forbidden Kingdom, you probably have a good idea where this review is going. And, well, you're probably right.
Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) is obsessed with old kung-fu movies and Asian culture. His closest friend seems to be an old Chinese man that runs a pawn shop in China town. Through an unfortunate turn of events, Jason is forced to betray his friend while at the same time stumbling upon an ancient staff that transports him to a different realm. In this strange place, Jason learns that he has been prophesied to return the staff to its rightful owner who will then overthrow the evil ruler of the realm. Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) and The Silent Monk (Jet Li) learn of Jason's quest and decide to protect him during his quest. With their help and the assistance of Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), they must fight their way to the palace of the Jade Warlord and return the staff to the legendary Monkey King (Jet Li).
Was anyone surprised to learn that there is a kid who travels to another realm and that the whole story revolves around him? Most people I talk to are very surprised since they had no idea there was a kid involved at all. That's because the TV spots left that detail out after the poor response the original teaser and trailer received. Instead of focusing on what the story is about, the TV spots centered around the fact that Jet Li and Jackie Chan are in a movie together. This is yet another example of trailers giving a false impression of how a film is really going to play out.
The performances were pretty good all around with the exception of Michael Angarano. The only other thing I have seen him in was Sky High in which he was alright. My problem with him is his facial expressions. They always seem out of place and not genuine. This was especially true in The Forbidden Kingdom where, for some odd reason, they decided to do close-up shots of his face all too often. Unless he improves tremendously before his next few films, including Jared Hess' Gentlemen Broncos, I can only say I'm indifferent to him.
Like I stated initially, I got the tremendous feeling that I was watching a different version of Last Action Hero, except this time instead of an action movie it was a martial arts film. It uses the same premise of a kid in possession of some object that has the ability to take him to a place far outside reality. While in that land he plays an important role in the outcome of all of the characters involved. I even half expected Jet Li or Jackie Chan to follow the kid back to the real world to help him out with some of the local bullies who had been bothering him. This should have been called "Last Kung-Fu Hero" instead of The Forbidden Kingdom.
I couldn't really figure out what kind of movie this was trying to be. It jumped back and forth between drama, flirtatious romance, action and fantasy. This wasn't a full fledged kid's movie either. Although not gory, there are some definitely intense scenes with someone getting shot, people getting stabbed and small amounts of blood. It seemed like it was trying to ride that line of being tame enough for younger children while having a bit of danger to appeal to the older crowd. They might have been able to show the playful kid's side and the dangerous older kid's side but they definitely didn't go together seamlessly. Instead, the transitions between the two were abrupt and kind of distracting to the overall feel of the movie.
It might seem like I really hated this movie, but I actually didn't. It certainly has lots of problems, but there were a few scenes that made it bearable, even to the point that I wouldn't mind seeing them again. Scenes like the beautifully choreographed fight between Jet Li and Jackie Chan, which is the main reason I wanted to see this in the first place. Their fight is actually pretty long and very complicated. It is definitely a fight scene that I will need to see again.
My final take on Forbidden Kingdom is that unless you're into cheesy, border-line kid's martial arts movies or just a huge fan of either Jackie Chan or Jet Li, then this could definitely be a rental. A few cool scenes can't make up for a poor plot and the feeling of reliving Last Action Hero. Too bad this was the project that Chan and Li finally decided to team up on - it could've been so much better.