Making the Grades
If you always wished Lord of the Rings had a little more Kung Fu and a much shorter running time, than The Forbidden Kingdom may be the movie you have been yearning to discover. It also marks the first film in which martial arts masters Jackie Chan and Jet Li both star.
Jason Triptikas (Michael Angarano) is an American teen up against a gang of thugs who have bullied him into helping them break into a pawnshop. After the heist goes wrong and the store's aging Asian proprietor is shot, the frightened accomplice is chased onto a rooftop, all the while hanging on to a coveted bo staff he rescued during the incident. About to tumble from his precarious perch, the hapless kid is amazed when instead he is transported into a mythical Chinese world.
While the primitive and seemingly tranquil community is a stark contrast to the inner city he left behind, he barely has a chance to get his footing before he's drawn into yet another conflict. This time an army suddenly descends on the small village and Jason finds himself about to be captured. Fortunately, a drunken stranger (Jackie Chan) appears and fights off the attackers with incredible precision. Later over drinks, the flask swigging man named Lu Yan, explains the story behind the happenings in the kingdom.
Hundreds of years earlier, the immortal Monkey King (Jet Li) ruled the land. He was an incredible warrior with fantastic powers until the jealous Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) deceived him, took away his bo staff, and froze him into a stone statue. The only way for the Monkey King to be released is if someone returns his magical rod. And yes, you guessed it, Jason has the missing stick.
The remainder of the film evolves into a road trip reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz with a Tolkienesque twist. Along their path they pick up the beautiful Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) -- the obvious "romantic interest"-- and a mysterious monk (also played by Li) who is at first wary about the intentions of the apparently intoxicated Lu Yan. These suspicions provide ample excuses for the film to take a fifteen-minute detour so these two guys can show off their stuff before finally coming to the conclusion they are actually on the same side.
Of course, even after the group resumes the original quest, they still run into plenty of additional reasons to demonstrate all manner of fighting moves -- some of which are aided by computer tricks. Those familiar with Chan and Li's other films won't be too surprised by the action here. Hand-to-hand combat and the use of martial arts weapons are seen frequently, with characters being hit, kicked and thrown. The violence intensifies, however, in scenes where we witness a number of stabbings, a man shot with an arrow, and an on-screen shooting. Blood effects are limited in these conflicts, but numberless secondary figures are beaten and defeated with no concern for possible injuries and loss of life.
Lu Yan's constant drinking (which is justified as being required for medicinal purposes), a handful of profanities, a moment when a man urinates on another, and a glimpse of scantily dressed women (presumably from a house of ill repute) round up the content issues.
Although the predictable plot and stereotyped characters are disappointing, parents that appreciate the incredible physical capabilities of both Chan and Li, as well as those find Jackie's trademark humor entertaining, may enjoy taking their teens to The Forbidden Kingdom.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Forbidden Kingdom.
One character in this movie says martial arts are “based on deception.” How is this particularly true in the case of motion pictures? Can you differentiate between the real stunts and those generated by computer graphics?
This movie presents some well-entrenched stereotypes—for instance Oriental people who are warriors and a Caucasian who can’t fight. Do you think these depictions are accurate or not? How do they help the audience to quickly identify with the characters?