Forbidden Kingdom combines cool martial arts fights, choreographed by some of the folks who did the fights in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, luscious Chinese landscapes, a boy, a girl, a quest, and, most of all, Jackie Chan and Jet Li to create a fun two hours of entertainment.
Jason, played by Michael Angarano, is a South Boston lad who is mad for Kung Fu movies. He haunts this decayed old pawn shop owned by an enigmatic Chinese gentleman named Old Hop (played by Jackie Chan) for pirate DVDs of his favorite martial arts flicks.
Unfortunately, Jason doesn’t actually know any kung fu outside of what he’s seen in the movies, so he is the constant prey of a local gang who beats him up on a regular basis. Such is Jason’s existence until he finds an ancient fighting staff that transports him to Ancient China, but not the one of history, rather the one of all the martial arts movies he has ever seen.
Jason discovers that he has to return the staff to its rightful owner, the Monkey King, played by Jet Li, who is ensorcelled by the evil Jade Warlord, played by Collin Chou, who also desires the staff. Along the way he meets some stalwart companions.
One of those companions is Lu Yan, a traveling monk played also by Jackie Chan. Chan plays his character with his “Drunken Master” persona that has served him well in a number of movies. Lu Yan staggers about the countryside, guzzling huge amounts of wine, then staggers and flows through battalions of bad guys, laying them out right and left with well placed blows and kicks, before escaping with a look of horror on his face over what he has gotten himself into. Jackie Chan proves once again that even in his late fifties he is the master of the comic martial arts fight.
Jet Li also plays a character known as “The Silent Monk”, a stolid person of few words, who lets his own martial arts skills speak for him. While Li’s Monkey King is all fund and mischief, his Silent Monk is serene calm and deadly fury.
Rounding out Jason’s companions is Golden Sparrow, played by Yifei Liu, a beautiful tea house musician who has her own reasons for wanting to meet the Jade Warlord. The love interest with Jason is mainly implied.
The companions are pursued by a deadly assassin, the white haired witch Ni Chang, played by Bing Bing Li, who wants to give the fighting staff to the Jade Warlord in return for an elixir of immortality.
Despite the PG13 rating, the violence is for the most part family friendly. A lot of the martial arts fights are of the style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with combatants leaping through the air, seeming the fly and glide about as they trade blows. As with the best of such scenes, the fights are as much a dance as they are combat.
Forbidden Kingdom is a standard quest story, which not only combines the quest to return the fighting staff to the Monkey King, but Jason’s quest to find his true self, to learn to be a hero. It is one of the oldest stories ever told, but it is well told in this case and can be enjoyed by all ages.