Sunday, May 11, 2008

FORBIDDEN KINGDOM: kickass team-up!

Caught FORBIDDEN KINGDOM last night with In, Rowan, and some of Rowan's colleagues, Josh, Karola, and Harvey. Very satisfying and harder hitting than I'd expected. The trailers painted the picture of a family-friendly action film, which, for the most part, it is. But y'know, with a young American teen as the focus and foil for the story, I figured and feared the martial arts action would be dialed down, a terrible crime given that this is the first big screen team up of powerhouses Jackie Chan and Jet Li!

I was happily disappointed by the very excellent Yuen Woo Ping choreography and stone-smashing physicality of a great extended "who do you think you are?" style-dueling encounter between Jackie and Jet's characters in a mountainside temple. Good crack. =)

All of the fights were kinetically satisfying, and they came in a couple of stylish flavors, incorporating both physical battle and mystical abilities, in different scenes, reminiscent of CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, ZU: WARRIORS OF THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS.

The story was pretty robust for a framework and excuse for setting up a bunch of martial arts melees and showdowns. Jason, new kid on the block in Southie (that's right, South Boston!) has made a habit of visiting Chinatown to pick up his kung-fu flick fix, frequenting a particular pawn/check cashing shop. When he wanders into a back storage room, he comes upon a bronze fighting staff that he's sure he's seen in his movies. The proprieter explains to him that he's had it for decades, passed down from his father and his father before him, to be held until someone appears to return it to its rightful owner.

Gosh, who do you suppose that could be?

On his way home from the shop, Jason is ambushed by a second string gang of Jets. When they find out he's tight w the old man who runs the check cashing shop, they force him to help them rob him. When the robbery goes bad, Jason instinctively grabs the fighting staff for protection. When the obnoxious sons of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX corner him, the staff mystically draws Jason across time and space to ancient China.

Here he learns that the staff he carries belongs to the immortal martial arts master, the Monkey King. The Monkey King was stripped of his staff and turned to stone by the despotic Jade Warlord, another immortal master. Without the Monkey King to keep him in check, he has ruled and terrorized China for 500 years as a tyrant. Jason's arrival, as the bearer of the staff, has been foretold in prophecy. He must return the staff to the Monkey King to free him from his stony prison so that he can defeat the Warlord and his armies.

No problem.

Unfortunately, young Jason is unskilled in kung fu and seems the person least qualified for this mission. Luckily for him, he happens upon Lu Yan, a drunken kung fu master (Jackie Chan! — see DRUNKEN MASTER 2 for his most kickass cinematic martial arts action ever! =) who doesn't take kindly to the Warlord's ways. Thrown together by fate, the master agrees to take Jason on as a student and help him on his quest. They quickly pick up another companion, Golden Sparrow, a young girl and impressive fighter who seeks revenge on the Warlord for the death of her mother.

Later, when a bandit manages to steal the staff from Jason's hands, Lu Yan tracks him down and encounters the Silent Monk (Jet Li!). Wacky fun ensues! =)

Well, okay, you can fill in the rest easily enough, but it'll be much better if you go and SEE it. =)

Jason's skills are pretty impressive. The kid looks like a Shia knock-off, but he seemed familiar to me. I can't imagine how cool and crazy it must've been to learn and train for martial arts at his age with Jackie, Jet, and Woo Ping as teachers. WAck!

Some smartaleck remarks, observations, and potential *spoilery* comments...

It's rated PG-13. There are death strikes, but from a distance. There's very little blood, some slashes and cuts, but no gaping wounds.

I don't understand how Wu Tang Clan was *not* involved in this. =)

In and I both saw the XANADU ending coming. Of course. =)

All of the story threads tie up quite nicely in the end.

Was kinda hoping for some of those Jackie Chan movie outtakes over the closing credits, but alas, none to be had.

I didn't like how they made a point of associating the White Witch with a wolf, but all of her style/sound effects seemed to be hawk-like.

I would've been happy if some of the animal sound effects, set to accompany certain styles, might've been dialed down or even removed.

Keep on keepin on~

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