The Forbidden Kingdom

Last night, I went out to watch The Forbidden Kingdom at SM Dasmariñas. I planned to catch the 6:40pm screening but came some ten minutes late. Little worries for me because I expected that the movie house wasn’t that packed and finding a good seat wouldn’t be that hard. Surprisingly, I was wrong, the theater was roughly 70% full – both premiere and de luxe seats, so I had to weave through crowded rows to find a good spot.

It turns out, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to see two of today’s biggest names in martial arts films: Jackie Chan and Jet Li together in a single movie. This is martial arts films history baby!

The Immortals

Jet Li vs Jackie Chan - Forbidden KingdomYep. Age is not clearly an issue for Jet Li and Jackie Chan as they performed their fight sequences as sharp as The Green Destiny sword, in their individual bouts and engagements. I was even more impressed with Jackie’s performance in which he showed that when it comes to down to performing technical and traditional Kung Fu he is at par with the other martial arts screen legends. Of course, his signature comedic antics and style were still present, perfectly weaved into his technical and masterful moves.

On the other hand, it’s quite refreshing to see Jet Li in a more relaxed and comical nature as he played the roles of The Silent Monk, an unconventional monk who drinks alcohol, and the mischievous Sun Wukong or the Monkey King – the legendary character of great martial arts mastery, strength and powers.

To be honest though, I cannot help but think Jet Li looked more like a chipmunk than a monkey when he appeared as the Monkey King. Perhaps Jackie Chan should have played the character instead.

‘Empty your cup’

This is one the most memorable lines of Jackie Chan in this movie and I’ve just realized that this too must be understood and practiced by any hardcore martial arts film jockey who would want to watch The Forbidden Kingdom.

If you loved the other epic martial arts films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Fearless, Hero among others, forget about them for a while, leave it all at the movie house doors because The Forbidden Kingdom is, to borrow the words of Mark of Winterheim | hdd: “not so epic”

Sadly though, the movie isn’t as epic as I would have hoped it to be. Of course, there’s Jackie’s classic monkey/drunken master antics and Jet Li’s cold but very cool demeanor in their respective characters but the enormity of their mission lacked the epic proportions that were seen in past epic martial arts movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers or Hero. It just felt awkward. I loved the fight scenes. Jackie and Jet are definitely at the head of their game despite their age. But it just felt weird and I couldn’t put a finger to it.

Half-empty, half-full

Perhaps the reason why this movie isn’t that much of an epic is because it is essentially an American film and so the notions of love or country, honor and friendship, ideals or family all of these have been watered down or abruptly executed.

When I saw the trailer a few months back and learned that an American teen actor was in the lead role, all I could say was: “WTF?!”

Again Mark puts it down squarely:

But of course, it also felt weird, and I think a lot of people might agree with me, to see an American as the lead actor in a movie where two martial arts icons have collaborated for the first and possibly the last time. I would have wanted a movie top billed by these two rather than the story revolving around an American lead actor.

The movie wasn’t a disappointment though. To see Jet Li and Jackie Chan sparring, trading kicks, punches and literally at each others’ throats is enough to have me looking forward to adding its DVD version in my collection.

Contrary to Mark, I wish, hope and believe for another “J & J project” that is in the league of the other epic martial arts films before. When that time comes, it will definitely kick ass, move us to tears and leave us in awe.

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