The Forbidden Kingdom (PG-13)

Action/Adventure 113 April 18, 2008
By Nick Pinkerton
The plot is pure choose-your-own-adventure: A bullied wuxia fanboy from South Boston (Michael Angarano) is teleported back into a LARP fantasia of feudal China, where he’s singled out as the long-anticipated “Chosen One” prophesied to topple the despotic warlord. Our nominal hero then recedes behind the two Mr. Miyagis who adopt him: a Lisa Bonet–bewigged Jackie Chan and warrior-monk Jet Li (English line readings: 75 percent intelligible). This is the first collaboration between kung fu’s Astaire and Kelly, and, as that, it disappoints. Like so much here, the fight arrangements by choreographer Yuen Woo-ping aren’t so much bad as undistinguished: The camera placement is off, the tempo unvaried, and Chan’s movements are obscured by his piled-on robes. The cinematography lacks storybook indelibility; Collin Chou’s Jade Emperor is a stock archvillain (though Li Bingbing’s bullwhip-toting “White Haired Demoness,” announced with apocalyptic reverb, is lovely) . . . and then there’s the scene where Li actually pisses in Chan’s face—a degradation familiar to viewers incensed by the demographic-outreach casting of white-dude Angarano. Taken as a whole, though, it’s an amiable lost-and-found of epic-adventure tropes. As I still illogically treasure Willow, many a 10-year-old who sees Forbidden Kingdom will remember it fondly in spite of its flaws.
Rob Minkoff Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Yifei Liu, Bingbing Li John Fusco, Ch'eng-En Wu Ryan Kavanaugh, Casey Silver Lionsgate

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