It was a dream match-up. Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li. Man, what I wouldn’t have paid to see that…15 or 20 years ago.
It’s not that Forbidden Kingdom is a terrible movie. (Heaven knows the criteria for a good martial arts film has little to do with it actually being good.) It’s just that it wasn’t all that much fun.
Sure, there’s the much-anticipated one-on-one between Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And, seriously, it’s the high point of the film. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was too manufactured. Too “let’s not offend either guy’s fans.” I’m sorry. I love Jackie Chan, but Jet Li could kick the 54-year-old Chan’s ass and was just holding back for the sake of the film (yeah, yeah, I know it’s all pretend, but still). What I really want to see is a young Jackie Chan take on Jet Li without the whole special effects deal.
I love the flying-by-wire thing when it’s done right–when the movie is a great fantasy story. Jet Li’s Hero is a brilliant example. Forbidden Kingdom is not. I know I just said that plot didn’t matter, but that’s when you’re looking at it for just the awesome fight scenes. When the fights are obviously fake, then it becomes a fairy tale, and goes back to needing a story to care about. Right off the bat, this one’s got an annoying American kid as its hero, and the bookend scenes at the beginning and end of the movie are just painful to watch. I didn’t want to follow him into some oriental dream world. I wanted to watch Jackie Chan and Jet Li kick ass.
There were some good things about the movie. Jackie Chan is as funny and fun to watch as usual. Jet Li is like a dancer, and his giggling turn as the Monkey King is amusing. The main bad guy is appropriately bad (though not exactly Darth Vader). It just wasn’t enough to outweigh the “ABC Afterschool Special” vibe I kept getting from the kid.