The Forbidden Kingdom
by Laura Tucker
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If you would have told me 20 years ago I would be excited about a kung fu movie coming out, I would have told you you were nuts. Yet, my life has changed a lot in these past 20 years. I became involved in the martial arts world. While my black belt is in the Korean style of tae kwon do, I’ve recently begun training in the Chinese martial arts of Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Hearing that The Forbidden Kingdom was coming out, a kung fu film uniting Jackie Chan and Jet Li for the very first time, I knew I had to see it.
The Forbidden Kingdom centers around the teenaged Jason (Michael Angarano), who is obsessed with kung fu, although doesn’t seem to have ever trained in it. His bedroom is covered in Bruce Lee posters, and he has dreams that resemble the kung fu movies he buys from Lu Yan’s Pawn Shop. Angarano looks strangely familiar, but a quick check online tells me the only things I would have seen him in are The Final Season and Seabiscuit. By the end of the film, I was wondering if he learned martial arts just for the film, or whether he was already studying, as he becomes really good in his fighting skills.
Jason seems to have a good relationship with the old man (a raspy-voiced Jackie Chan under much makeup) who owns the pawn shop, as he’s told by him that his dreams of kung fu are from watching too much Hong Kong Phooey. Because of this, Jason is bullied into helping a group of guys break in. The robbery goes horribly wrong, and the old man hands Jason a golden bo staff that has been in the pawn shop for a hundred years, telling him he must return it to its rightful owner.
Waking up in ancient China, still holding the special bo staff, Jason is being chased by the Jade Warriors. He’s helped by a very unlikely person, a very drunk Lu Yan (in a dual role, Jackie Chan, wearing what looks to be American Idol’s Jason Castro’s dreadlocks). Lu Yan helps fend off the Jade Warriors, effectively using his drunken fist skills. Examining the golden bo staff, Lu Yan explains the legend surrounding it, of the Monkey King (Jet Li) that was cast in stone once the staff was stripped from him by the Jade Warlord.
Jason and Lu Yan head to Five Elements Mountain to return the staff in order to send Jason home, and are joined by a girl who was orphaned by the Jade Warlord and a Silent Monk (also in a dual role, Jet Li). Both the Silent Monk (being no longer silent) and Lu Yan become Jason’s masters, teaching him the art of kung fu, once something he dreamed of doing, and now something he will need to defend his life.
The martial arts throughout this film are just amazing, whether they’re employing drunken fist or kung fu. Both Jackie Chan and Jet Li are so quick, that it’s hard to catch every move and pick apart their techniques. One move that had me staring wide-eyed was Jackie Chan coming out of a flip and landing in a break fall in a one-handed pushup. I think it’s one of those things only he could do; the rest of us would break our arm.
The plot, at times, takes on a somewhat sci-fi/fantasy feel to it, with the casting in stone, and the use of an elixir of immortality, and not since Bewitched, by the way, have I watched something with so much discussion of mortals and immortals. Yet, much of this is rooted in martial arts theory and history, and as a martial artist, it makes it a fun discovery.
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