Ken's Review: The Forbidden Kingdom - A Remake of Last Action Hero?

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).

The unlikely four who team together to stop the Jade Warlord in The Forbidden Kingdom.The Forbidden Kingdom Review

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.

One of the best scenes in the movie - the fight between Jackie Chan and Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom.The Forbidden Kingdom Review

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.

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Thank you for the review Ken. I wasn't too sure about this movie but now i'll wait until it comes out on DVD. Don't get me wrong i love Jacky and Lee but to have the story revolve around a kid, no thanks.

akumared on Apr 18, 2008


Jet Li plays the Silent Monk AND the Monkey King? How's that work? Solid review, sir. --IK

Ian Kazimer on Apr 18, 2008


I'm still going to see it in theaters

Avelanch on Apr 18, 2008


I'm just that big of a fan of Jet Li and Jackie, and if their fight scene is as good as you say it is (and as i imagine) then it will be worth it to me.

Avelanch on Apr 18, 2008


Thanks again for the review, Ken. I can appreciate what the were trying to do tho. The film industry wanted to gross as much as possible so, in an effort to reel in as many viewers as the could, they gave it a kiddy flare, there by widening the prospective audience, which in turn makes more profit. Understandable, but why forego what could have been the best martial arts film of the decade? Jackie Chan and Jet Li? Why sully that? For die hard martial arts action fans I hope this lives up to the hype.

R-Two D-Twizzle on Apr 18, 2008


I had a blast watching it last night... I am a huge martial arts fan, my son loved some of the slap happy humor and my wife was into it because she liked the development of the role of the traveler. My biggest point to all the comments is simply one::: you are telling me that you could ever expect Jackie Chan to be involved in the 'best martial arts film of the decade'. He is amazing, but if there is no comedy, he is just a stunt-happy martial artist. And honestly, I don;t know that this film could have ever been billed as the a serious picture. I don;t want to list any spoilers for those reading, but simply relive all the movie and recall how interlaced all the comedy was to the story development. You had some cooky characters with cooky names and actions (monkey king), so it had to rely on the humor. I really enjoyed the film, I just can never understand the perception that some could believe that it was billed as a serious martial arts movie. I strongly believe that anyone that had seen the trailers and looked into who was to be in the film would realize it was to be a comedy, not an epic battle between Li and Chan.

Dusty on Apr 19, 2008


Dusty - Even though I didn't think it was a very good movie, I admitted to liking certain parts. I guess I'm just tired of the comedic martial arts films. I desperately long for the serious kung-fu movies of the past. Give me "Enter the Dragon" any day over "The Forbidden Kingdom" or "Rush Hour". You are right thought when you said, "I strongly believe that anyone that had seen the trailers and looked into who was to be in the film would realize it was to be a comedy, not an epic battle between Li and Chan." If you actually did research you would know the movie was centered around a kid instead of Chan or Li. But, if you had only seen the T.V. spots you would have thought it was a serious martial arts movie more along of the lines of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", but with a bit more fantasy mixed in.

Ken Evans on Apr 19, 2008


i cant wait to see this tomorrow i love martial arts movies and Jakie and Jet Li are finally paired together im defiantly seeing this movie, great review and while im watching it ill think of this review.

Curtis on Apr 19, 2008


The movie it self wasnt so great, it had a couple of nice fighting scenes other than that i didnt like the story that much. Personally felt like a waste of money shoulda waited for it on DVD

Sum person on Apr 20, 2008


Atleast the possibility of Li and Chan coming together for another film is more likely now that they've become good fwends. Maybe they'll do something a little more traditional with more creative control rather than going the Hollywood route with the token white boy as the main hero.

Frame on Apr 21, 2008


This movie came about 10 years too late. And of course it has to star a white person as the protagonist. And who cares if you feel like it's an update of some cheesy Hollywood movie, Hollywood remakes Chinese movies all the time - I don't hear people complaining about that. One of those remakes led to an Best Picture Oscar last year and a reference to how it was based on a Japanese movie.

Dave Lee on Apr 22, 2008


Well, Angarano has acted in Sky High, which I liked, so the movie shouldn't be TOO bad, since Chan and Li are in it too, but you never know. Martial Art films usually involve lots of useless dialogue, so I hope this movie will give the viewers something new to scream about. However, after seeing Li's film "Fearless" and Chow Yun Fat's "Curse of the Golden Flower" I am apprehensive of watching another martial art or war film so soon. Unless it is different. So this movie is a miss.

Dreadnaught on Apr 23, 2008


You morons do not understand the movie at all. It's a fucking comedy parody of all the 70s-80s Hongkong kungfu shows. So basically it's either you get it and laugh your way through the movie at all the references or you stone through out because of the incoherent plot. I'm guessing the majority belongs to the latter and I feel elitist. I mean, how can you not catch the obvious references to Jackie Chan's Drunken Fist, and the cheesy Karate Kid lines? At the very least, you should already understand the genre when Bruce Lee's picture was slapped with Liu YiFei in the starting credits.

anonymous on May 2, 2008


I didn't really have any expectations for this movie and I think because of that I was able to enjoy it. I definitely thought the fight scenes were really well done and although some parts were a little cheesy it was still fun to watch. I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it as much as I did. Ken, if you ever get the chance you should see Michael Angarano in Speak or Black Irish. I think he is quite good in both of those movies. He's also in Lords of Dogtown, which I thought you would have seen. 😉 I have to admit I only found this website because of Kevin's Twilight article but it's a really good website and I've been impressed with alot of the articles and reviews that I've read. I'm glad I came across it. Thanks!

Janet on May 4, 2008


very nive movie..

kathy on Jun 7, 2008


The whole movie boils down to a combination of nerd self-insertion at a level that would even make Tarantino shake his head in dismay, and "how the white man saved China". The latter I found especially reprehensible.

Tetsuo on Jul 13, 2008

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