I had many reservations going into The Forbidden Kingdom. The idea of Jackie Chan and Jet Li in a movie together? Awesome. Them being in a kid’s movie whose main character was a white kid from Boston? Not so awesome. Not to mention the fact that Jet and Jackie have hardly been on their A game the last couple of years. Jet has had some cool films, with Fearless (AKA China Must Be STRONG!!!) Hero, and Unleashed, but his American films have been disastrous where he’s made the likes of War which might literally be the worst movie. And Jackie, oh Jackie, the less said about The Tuxedo, The Messenger, and the sore known as The Rush Hour franchise, the better.
But lo and behold The Forbidden Kingdom, is not bad, it is infact quiet good. It’s unquestionably the best American film either has been in. This is of course kind of like saying it features the world’s tallest midget but hey, I’ll take what I can get. First off this is a movie about Jet Li and Jackie Chan featuring some white kid from Boston not vica-versa. And the kid himself, despite some idiocy and whining that seems part and parcel for teenage protagonists in modern movies, is fairly likable, a kid raised on Shaw Brothers and Ronny Yu, and though they may bitch, I believe that most Kung Fu fans who see this movie will see more of themselves in him then they might care to admit. The movie itself is actually pretty ideal for young fans, who’ve seen a few American Kung Fu flicks on TNT and want to start digging a bit deeper. Hell even the freaking credits show more respect for Kung Fu then most American flicks show in their runtime.
The film’s film literacy is impressive as it more or less runs the Gamut of what Kung Fu has to offer, from the basic bone crunching hand to hand style of the Shaws and Sonny Chiba, to the extravagant wire work of Zhang Yimou and The Bride With White Hair, to the occasionally bizarre flights of fantasty provided by the likes of Chinese Ghost Story, it’s all here for the taking. It also understands it’s stars better then any American film either has ever been in, channeling Jackie’s puckish anarchy that’s too often just written off as buffoonery, and using Jet Li’s playful side which his American films have studiously ignored. Finally and most importantly, the movie doesn’t drop the ball with what the Audience’s came to see, the Jet Li Vs. Jackie smack down.
Had this been shot twenty or even ten years ago it probably would have been one of the all time great fights. As is it’s still a ten minute, expertly choreographed extravaganza, that manages to serve as both a kickass fight, and a commentary on the two actor’s personas and fighting style. The fight starts with some straight up Kung Fu and Jet Li always the traditionalist dominates, but as the fight progresses Jackie starts fighting on his terms, bringing the improvisational loose style that has always defined his kung fu. The fight continues to build and build, from almost playful sparring, to balls out Fists Of Fury. And even bitter Kung Fu fans who don’t want to watch the movie on general principle (and believe me I know quite a few) owe it to themselves to rent the movie for that scene. This is the kind of Kung Fu that American fans of the Genre always claim to want. A Film that loves and respects Kung Fu and understands what makes these stories and characters work. Vote with your dollars and show it some support, or I’ll see you in line for Romeo Must Die 2: The Romeoing.