Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
May 2008

The soon-to-be-forgotten 'Kingdom'

Despite the legendary firepower of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, 'The Forbidden Kingdom' falls flat

The Forbidden Kingdom
Lionsgate Films and The Weinstein Company
Director: Rob Minkoff
Screenplay: John Fusco
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Liu Yifei, Collin Chou and Li Bingbing
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 53 minutes
(out of four)

The Forbidden Kingdom is a generally efficient genre exercise that, in being such, offers no real reason for its own existence. Any story - no matter how contrived, no matter how old-hat - can be made new again with the right approach, the right writing, the right vision or even the right star power.

The Forbidden Kingdom has the star power, all right - but were it for the right vision or writing, the combination of Jackie Chan and Jet Li would have been a far more formidable tandem on screen than it is on paper. The on-screen pairing of the two international stars is a first, but the resulting film is hardly as novel.

If you're going to make a martial-arts epic with all the trimmings - fulfilling destiny, reclaiming honor, prophecies, time travel, etc. - knock yourself out. But at least do us the courtesy of finding your own personal voice or making it stand out, at least a little bit. The problem with The Forbidden Kingdom is not that it's a rehash - it's that it's a roundly uninspired rehash. In short, there is never any reason why you would or should watch The Forbidden Kingdom over countless other movies of its kind.

If you just want a Jackie Chan action-comedy, there's no reason to choose this one over The Legend of Drunken Master, Shanghai Noon, Rush Hour or countless others. That has to be the litmus test.

That isn't to say that every movie has to be held up to the best. But at the very least, it should be an alternative to the best, rather than just an inferior version of it.

The biggest shame of The Forbidden Kingdom is the way it wastes the talents of its two stars, who share top billing. Chan and Li are vastly different performers, each with his own specific talents and style. But none of that is utilized. The film fails to play them off each other nor give them much to do beyond what the screenplay requires. Yes, their roles in the script cleverly come together for the climactic fight scene, but for the bulk of the movie they're charismatic heroes with nothing to do.

They fail even to provide an effective foil for the real hero of the film, Jason (Michael Angarano), a kung-fu junkie from South Boston who accidentally travels back through time to fulfill his destiny, and return a magic staff to its rightful owner, the Monkey King.

But it's a bland journey to get there. Rarely has "destiny" felt less urgent. Along the way, Jason meets up with Lu Yan (Chan), an immortal drunkard (wine, he insists, is what sustains his immortality), Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei) and the Silent Monk (Li), who team up to teach Jason kung-fu through the helpful use of - you guessed it - a couple of montages.

That's about as creative as John Fusco's screenplay gets. (That this is the man, of all people, whom the Weinsteins tapped to scribe the upcoming remake of The Seven Samurai is disconcerting, but that's another story.) Fight scenes peppered in throughout the expository details, a delightfully over-the-top adversary, bada bing, you've got yourself a marital-arts "epic."

This is one of those movies in which structure just gets in the way. Maybe there could have been some life to any of this if the filmmakers didn't keep stumbling over what they're supposed to do.

Take a movie like Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers - sure, it may lack the proper logic and motivation at times, but what it lacks in mechanics it more than makes up for with visual invention and beauty.

The Forbidden Kingdom doesn't have time for anything like that. It's too hung up on getting us back to where we've already been.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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