Jul 9, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

Twin engines ... Jet Li and Jackie Chan fight it out in The Forbidden Kingdom. Photograph: AP

Jet Li and Jackie Chan meet for the first time in this entertaining if negligible Hollywood martial arts action film, produced by its fight choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen. Perhaps inevitably, doubling the mighty reputations of Chan and Li doesn't double the impact in the hoped-for way, and they don't strike many sparks, though the film always looks good, and the combat scenes are very enjoyable. Jet Li plays the legendary Monkey King, fondly remembered in the UK from the TV series which the BBC transmitted in the 1970s. Hundreds of years before the action begins, he is tricked into surrendering his mystical martial-arts staff, and is imprisoned in a stone statue.

Which is where a dopey American kid called Jason comes in - played by Michael Angarano, known for his role as the captured teen on TV's 24. Jason finds the staff in an old video store and finds himself whisked back into the past, on a mission to restore the item to its master. He is helped by the beautiful Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei) and the indomitable Jackie Chan, effectively reprising the Drunken Master comedy role seen 30 years ago, here playing a perennially sozzled kung fu warrior, who finds himself sparring with the doppelganger monk, played by Jet Li, that the Monkey King himself created out of a single hair from his beard.

At 54 years old - to Li's 45 - Chan has still great exuberance, and he's as likeable as ever. The 20-year-old Angarano shows he has the martial arts moves as well. But The Forbidden Kingdom doesn't have the artistry and the sense of the exotic that made Hollywood fall in love with movies like Crouching Tiger and House of Flying Daggers, and neither does it have the grandiose sense of epic of something like Hero. It's more like a TV feature-length pilot, and in fact shows every sign of leaving the mystical gate open for more movies on this theme. [the guardian]

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