Jackie Chan’s a drunk. Jet Li’s a monkey. Wait, don’t sue us (and please, please don’t hit us). We’re talking about their characters in this East-meets-West martial arts flick. It’s the first time the genre’s two biggest stars have shared top billing and they’re both letting their hair down: Jet with dodgy ginger whiskers as the Monkey King; Jackie harking back to his boozy breakout as a wig-wearing, wine-sipping drunken master. Of course, you can’t put the two Js in a movie without scheduling in a scrap. Their “who’s the daddy?” fight leaves everything undecided – though Li later pisses all over Chan’s face, literally. It’s a golden shower that pretty much sums up how seriously this kiddie-aimed fight flick takes itself.
Like Bulletproof Monk or ’80s non-classic The Golden Child before it, The Forbidden Kingdom is a lightweight wuxia wannabe that pays homage to classic kung fu flicks, packaging them up for a pre-teen audience who’ve never heard of Zu: Warriors Of The Magic Mountain and were too young to sneak into Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Even the plot is pure schoolyard fantasy, a retelling of Chinese classic Journey To The West as Boston adolescent Jason (Sky High’s Michael Angarano) is magically thrown back in time to ancient China. There the kung-fu-less kid’s supposed to save the world by defeating the evil Jade Warrior (Collin Chou) and returning the Monkey King’s magic staff.
Yadda, yadda, yadda. Ignore the convoluted plotting. What kids in the audience will remember is Chan’s comedy boozing, Li’s impish clowning (his best acting ever) and Bingbing Li’s white-haired witch, who adds a little sex appeal to the teen-angled proceedings. Nothing here bodes particularly well for screenwriter John Fusco’s incoming Seven Samurai remake (sacrilege, obviously). But if The Forbidden Kingdom can encourage a few impressionable minds to go rent The Bride With White Hair, it’ll be worth saving from the chop.
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The historic pairing of Jackie and Jet may get fight fans worked up but this is ultimately just a Saturday morning flick for the under-13s. Think The Karate Kid meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by the guy who brought us Stuart Little...