Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Forbidden Kingdom (Two-Disc Special Edition) (2008)

The Forbidden KingdomSo the commercials all promote Jackie Chan and Jet Li. What they neglect to do is mention, I dunno, the **main character** of the film, a young Boston kid named Jason Tripitikas (played by Michael Anganaro).

So the movie's basically a kid film. You have a reluctant hero who gets sent to a fantasy version of China, and along the way he learns martial arts and Eastern philosophy.

What did I like about it? The fight scenes are, for the most part, fantastic. They start off a little weak, get better over time, and then get absolutely fantastic when you have both Jet Li and Jackie Chan in the film. The fight scenes are weakest when there's too much CGI in them -but most of them are purely physical, and quite good.

The Chinese fantasy aspects are authentic, if not accurate (much in the same way the HBO series Rome is not a completely accurate recounting of events, but an authentic recreation of the tone of ancient Rome). They throw in things like The Monkey King and his golden staff, soldier monks, drunken immortals and even The Bride With White Hair. And the Chinese philosophy, for those familiar with it, is spot on.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li are fantastic not only as fighters, but comedically as well. (There's a scene involving rain that had absolutely everyone in the theater laughing hard.) Anganaro puts in a surprising turn physically -he looks like he got a lot of martial training. Yifei Liu is heartbreakingly lovely.

It's probably a little scary for young kids -there is some intense violence in the beginning, for instance. And there are sappy moments, as you would expect for a kid's film. But it means well. I have to say that I had a bit of trouble making out the English of some of the Chinese actors sometimes, tho -and I'm Chinese-American! I worry others might have even worse problems.

Still, overall, I liked it.

Jet Li and Jackie Chan: two of Hong Kong's most renowned superstars. Who would win in a fight? Who's faster and more agile? This question has been in every Martial Arts fans' mind and this project has been a long time in the making, Asian film fans have all but given up on the idea after the little melee in 1995 called "High Risk" wherein Li would play a bodyguard to Chan. It was said that Chan turned down the project because of his character's lack of creative depth, while someone I know who worked with him said it was Li who didn't want to work with Chan. Chan attempted to break into the Hollywood fold via "The Big Brawl" but it wasn`t really until "Rumble in the Bronx" and "Rush Hour" did he really get noticed. Jet Li stole the show in "Lethal Weapon 4" and enjoyed "Kiss of the Dragon`s" box-office success. Those projects were about ten years ago. "FORBIDDEN KINGDOM" may not be the best film to have them show their stuff and the two may have their best roles behind them, but hey, they can still duke it out like no one else.

Jason is a young man who is very obsessed with Asian Martial arts films. Most of the time, he spends his time in a pawnshop owned by a kindly old man in the hunt for rare Asian Films. One day, he crosses paths with a gang of bullies who intend to rob the old man. The old man asks Jason to take the staff away from all the chaos and as if by some stroke of fate, Jason find himself in another world, another time. A mystical world ruled by the evil Jade warlord (Collin Chou) who wants the very staff given him by the old man in the pawnshop. Supposedly the staff is the key to power in the kingdom and must be returned to its rightful owner; the Monkey King. He meets up with a drunken man named Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), a pretty young woman bent on vengeance named "Golden Sparrow" (Crystal Liu Yifei) and a stoic monk (Jet Li). Together they challenge the forces of the warlord led by a lovely silver-mane woman named Ni Chang ( Li Bing Bing, Dragon Heat) or perish in the attempt--

The film may be America's tribute to Asian cinema and surprisingly, the film is directed by Rob Minkoff; yes, the same director who gave us Disney's "Haunted Mansion". No big-shot Hong Kong director takes the helm but an American director. Don't worry, at least the filmmakers were smart enough to get the services of a legendary Martial Arts director; Yuen Woo-Ping. The film has a lot of references to Asian cinema, quite a lot that would put even Tarantino to shame. Ni Chang is lovely and looks like a tribute to the Wuxia epic; "Bride with White Hair". While Golden Sparrow is a tribute to Cheng Pei Pei's "Golden Swallow"; she even quotes "Come Drink with me", a Cheng Pei Pei film. The bamboo forest looks reminiscent to "A Touch of Zen" and "House of flying Daggers". Scenes of "A Monkey goes West" is even seen in Jason's Television screen. I was ready to bash this film until I saw it for what it was; an American-kid's tribute to Hong Kong cinema. Someone who loves Chan and Li, who would give Asian cinema the respect it deserves. The filmmakers had good intentions and as an Asian film fan, I applaud them for their ambition.

The film's showstopper lies in its hyper-kinetic action sequences. Yuen Woo-Ping (also responsible for Kill Bill, Kung Fu Hustle) knows his stuff and it is no surprise that he is Asia's premier fight choreographer. The fight between Chan and Li was fairly long and the film's main draw. Sure, the intensity isn't as hard-hitting as the climactic battles in "Legend of Drunken Master" and "Fist of Legend" but nonetheless, it was still masterfully done. Use of "wire fu" is obvious and the fight was well-executed and cleverly choreographed. It was very "family-friendly" as was its intention. The battles with Collin Chou (Donnie Yen's opponent in FlashPoint) was more bloody than the other fights but it still maintained its limits. There are quite a decent number of fight sequences that die-hard fans of Martial Arts films will be at home.

The performances are good for the most part; Li's performance isn't on his "The Warlords" caliber but it'll do as the quiet(?) monk. Chan's character is more witty and sharp-tongued. Chan's humorous appeal helps the film's pace and assists the scenes without any exciting action. Collin Chou's Jade warlord seemed a bit too underwhelming as the villain (the mascara has to go). However, his aid, Ni Chang (Played by Li Bing Bing) is so lovely that she eats up the screen with her whip-wielding, white-haired charisma that will undoubtedly strike a familiar image to Asian cinema fan boys. Sparrow may be the epitome of the ultimate Asian-woman; she has that intensity but maintains a girl next door look. Michael Angarano plays Jason; he may look very awkward at first but his character grew on me after awhile.

"Forbidden Kingdom" does have its share of problems but somehow, it overshadows them. The Yuen Woo-Ping directed fight sequences is the film's main strength, along with Jackie Chan's humorous appeal and it doesn't hurt to have Jet Li around either. The film is a bit too family-friendly for my tastes but thankfully, the filmmakers made it work. The plot is a bit too simple but it knew exactly what it wanted to do. Its execution may be lacking at times but the appearance of the classic "Golden Sparrow" and "Ni Chang" characters with Chan's character reminiscent of his "Drunken Master" days and Jet Li as a monk, reminiscent of Shaolin Temple; the film is an enjoyable affair. I give the American filmmakers credit where its due; they managed to get these two superstars together--something HK cinema wasn't really able to do.

RECOMMENDED! [3 ½ Stars]

Stallone and Schwarzenegger together?

I own the 2-disc HK release from JoySales. (same transfer should be utilized)

VIDEO/AUDIO: 2.40 anamorphic widescreen. The picture is amazing. Sharp, very detailed and clean with radiant colors. If the U.S. release sports the same transfer, it would look very impressive. I also hope that it would include the 6.1 DTS-ES audio as well as the 5.1 Dolby Digital track.

Features: Trailers--Cast/Crew interviews--Premier--Behind the scenes--Photo Gallery

The U.S. release should have a Digital copy.

Buy The Forbidden Kingdom (Two-Disc Special Edition) (2008) Now


Ok take that popcorn out of the microwave, grab your cola, and set the lights down low and get ready for some kung-fu action.

At first glance, the movie seems to be full oh wired choreographed fight scenes which I pretty much loathe. But the movie took the scenes and made them `ok'. It was like it was telling us "Yes, we know you know it's wires, but you and we are ok with it". And I was. It starts with The Monkey King kicking some butt up on top of a fake looking mountain top, and then *poof* we find out that it was all but a dream. Jason Tripitikas wakes up and heads to his favorite pawn shop down in Chinatown to pick up some more kung-fu movies. As Jason is heading out of Chinatown, he gets stopped by some local thugs/bullies. They make fun of him about his kung-fu movies and then show him some of their own fighting style. After the beat down they tell him to take them to the pawn shop so they can rob the place. The old man, knowing a few moves himself, takes it to them, but only cheated out of the grace of fighting like a man, by a single bullet. Jason runs from the thugs with a staff that the old man hands him. As Jason tries to get away, he falls and lands... a different world in a different time. He comes across a man named Lu Yan (Chan) who tells him about his staff. That it once belonged to powerful man named The Monkey King. The Monkey King was tricked into a non fair fight and before the King was imprisoned he sent his staff away so that someone could come rescue him with it. They assume it's Jason, but is it? As they travel to where the Monkey King is imprisoned they come across Golden Sparrow. A girl seeking revenge for her family's death. They also come across The Silent Monk (Li), who is also on a mission to free the Monkey King. With their journeys intertwined, we can only hope for some sweet Kung-Fu action. And boy do we get it.

Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li was truly fun to watch. We all know it could've been MUCH better if they were probably 10 or 15 years younger than they are, but come on, it was still a great fight scene. Praying Mantis, Snake, Tiger, Crane, all types of Kung-Fu was used. It was definitely something to witness.

The Monkey King vs. The Jade Emperor, even though CGI enhanced and wire enhanced, was pretty awesome. It made the fact that they were godlike characters more believable. The CG used for this was spectacular and looked close to being real.

And there were many more scenes where Lu Yan, The Silent Monk, the Golden Sparrow are fighting all types of people. You won't be bored with a lack of Kung-Fu.

I also liked how there was a white haired woman bounty hunter after them. When she fought her hair became part of arsenal along with a whip she carried. Now I've seen some Kung-Fu flicks with people using their long hair before and the way it seems fake, always made it great. In this movie, when she starts to whip her hair around, it's CG looking (but once again this does not hurt it), until it hits the person. For instance on one scene it's got Lu Yan grabbing her hair and looks totally fake, but at the same time amazing. It felt like a throwback to some of the older movies. Man I loved it.

Some people are complaining that this was too kiddy. Well, I can see where they are coming from because there isn't a deep story here. It did feel like it was more geared towards a `not really having to think about it' crowd. And you know what. GOOD. I don't always have to think about stuff when I'm watching a good action flick. I actually had a blast watching this because I think if it took itself to seriously, most of the fight scenes would have been `eye rolling' instead of fantastic.

In the end I would say grab this movie up as soon as you can and sit the kids down with a large Papa Johns pizza and have a fun time.

P.S. The way the story was set up, with the kid going from reality into an almost storybook tale, to come back into reality with things he learned... it sort of makes me think of The Never Ending Story but with Kung-Fu instead of a gigantic flying dog.

Read Best Reviews of The Forbidden Kingdom (Two-Disc Special Edition) (2008) Here

2008's "The Forbidden Kingdom," written by John Fusco and directed by Rob Minkoff, plays almost like a dry-run for the remake of "The Karate Kid" that was to be released two years later.

In this earlier film, Michael Angarano plays a martial arts movie geek who finds himself magically transported back to war torn Medieval China after he picks up a mysterious staff in a local porn shop. Jackie Chan stars as a supposed "Daoist immortal" who teaches the transplanted teen the ins and outs of martial arts and who, apparently, has no trouble comprehending modern American English as spoken by a boy from South Boston. Jet Li portrays The Monkey King, an immortal who was turned into stone by the evil Jade Warlord and must now be freed with the help of the magic staff now in the boy's possession.

The major selling point of "The Forbidden Kingdom" is, of course, that it offers fans the rare opportunity of watching the two greatest icons of modern kung fu cinema doing what they do best in a single film.

Thus, while the script filled as it is with action movie clichés, cheap sentimentality, two-bit philosophizing and anachronistic one-liners and quips is certainly nothing to write home about, the production design and karate chop spectacle make the movie at least watchable for the martial arts movie geek in all of us.

Want The Forbidden Kingdom (Two-Disc Special Edition) (2008) Discount?

The long-awaited collaboration between Jackie Chan and Jet Li may have worked better 10 years ago, when the actors were still in their prime. When you consider the ages of the two (Chan at about 53, and Li at about 44, when this was filmed) they did do an amazing job. I'll be lucky if I can operate my TV remote by the end of this year. This is the most enjoyable work I've seen from Chan since "Who Am I" or "Gorgeous" in the late 90's. Li still looks good in performance (he does some fantastic stick-fighting), and we might still have a little while with him.

The plot is a cross between "The Never Ending Story" and "The Wizard of Oz", with a dash of "The Karate Kid" and "Highlander" thrown in. Point being: It's silly. Bearing that in mind, it's very well executed and visually stunning. Plus it contains a crapload of references to various Shaw Bros and Wuxia films. HERE GOES: A young martial-arts-movie-enthusiast named Jason (Michael Angarano) dreams about the Monkey King (Li) at night before entering an old store in Chinatown run by the elderly Hop (Chan), who sells bootleg DVDs. Some bullies then use Jason to break into Hop's, since he knows the owner. During the chaos, Hop is shot by the gang leader. Despite his injury, Hop gives Jason an old staff and tells him it must be returned to its rightful owner. Jason runs away from the gang to a nearby rooftop, where he is magically whisked away to ancient China! Having no idea how he got there, he wanders around until he is attacked by soldiers, who are looking for the staff. He is helped by a wandering drunk named Lu Yan (Chan, again), who tells him that the staff belongs to the Monkey King, and must be returned to him, and kept out of the clutches of the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou, "Flash Point", "Fearless") who imprisoned the Monkey King in the first place. Joining them along the way are Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a young girl whose parents were killed by the Jade Warlord, and a monk (Li, again), whose vested interest is also to return the staff to the Monkey King.

The fights are done by Yuen Woo Ping, and while pretty good, could have been better. I know that he's the man when it comes to martial arts choreography, but I've grown tired of his style, especially concerning wires. He just doesn't seem to know when to say when. Luckily, this is the type of movie where it's more in keeping with the story. After all, this is a fantasy movie with plenty of magic. Hell; the Monkey King, the Jade Warrior, and Lu Yan are all immortals. In fact, Lu Yan is one of the 8 Drunken Immortals, referenced in a style during Chan and Woo Ping's 1978 classic "Drunken Master". One thing I will say about the fights is that there are quite a few of them, so I shouldn't gripe too much. There are some pretty sweet (and very creative) moments during the action, the highlight of which is the fight between Chan and Li. Their fight could never live up to its expectations, but it's still a lot of fun, much like the rest of the film. Even the character of Jason does some cool stuff in the last act. I rented this, and am considering purchase, so I musta liked it quite a bit. At the very least, this is the best martial arts fantasy aimed at kids since "Surf Ninjas".

Upon its initial release, there were already 3 versions of the disc, including Blu Ray. This DVD is in widescreen with fantastic picture quality. The xtras are plentiful, but I was hoping for some interviews with the two leads, whose behind-the-scenes antics are barely glimpsed during the other features. It's in English and some Cantonese with subtitles available in Spanish. This also has running commentary by director Rob Minkoff and screenwriter John Fusco. Fusco's script is based on the classic Chinese novel "Journey to the West". I would love to see a serious movie about the legend of the Monkey King. He is the trickster of Chinese mythology, and I'm fascinated by his folklore. 3.5/5


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