24 April 2008

Forbidden Kingdom - a review

Like most boys growing up in Baguio City in the late 70s to the 80s, we watched a lot of Martial Arts films. Foremost of these is Jacky Chan's movies. The fight scenes are meticulously thought out and performed like it can be done by everybody else. And as can be seen in the outtakes (which is a trademark ending of his films), you can see the dedication Jacky Chan pours into his movies. It is a passion that shows in his performance.

And then came Wong Fei Hung of the "Once Upon a Time in China" series. Jet Li wowed us with his moves. While Jackie Chan loves injecting humor into his performance, Jet Li exudes a calculating and serious mood. I wondered if there will come a time when these two will face each other in a single movie. In my wildest dreams.

Lo and behold. My wildest dream came true! The ironic part is, I have never even seen a trailer of this movie. Just the posters at which I stared in disbelief. It's for real!

And so last weekend, my wife, Jo-Lo, and I trooped to the cinema to watch Forbidden Kingdom. I knew early on that there has to be a confrontation between these two stars and eagerly anticipated this. I was not disappointed. It's one of the best martial arts sequences I have seen.

An added bonus is Jackie Chan reprising his role as a drunken master. Some of his earlier films portrayed him as a character who was taught the art of the Drunken Fist, whereby the martial arts technique required drinking copious amounts of alcohol while fighting and getting drunk in the process while at the same time becoming more invincible! And Jet Li maintained his composure as a Monk; his Wong Fei Hung persona really suits him.

Hmmm... I really do not want to give away spoilers at this point because the movie is still relatively new and you might not have watched it yet, but if you have, I would like to hear your take on the immortality concept of the movie. That part was confusing to me.

As for the overall plot of the movie, it actually reminds me of another movie called Warriors of Virtue where an American kid loves going to this Chinese food shop. He had braces on his legs, but this did not stop him from dreaming of becoming a football player. An accidental drop into a whirling water storage of sorts (he was cajoled into crossing a narrow plank by kids who need a really good spanking) transported him to the mystical land of Tau where he met these Runes possessing powers of the five elements.

Hmmm... I do see the resemblance with Forbidden Kingdom. There's also this dude who loves frequenting a Chinese store - this time a pawnshop - and is forced by a gang to do something bad and he falls.... into the magical land of Ancient China where there is a prophecy that the Monkey King will rise again and defeat the oppressive regime.

Yes, dear boys and girls. The spotlight is shared by this lanky kid who grows in strength and willpower as the story progresses. I have read some reviews that said the movie needed a touch of American for it to sell in the US and give it an international appeal. I disagree. In my point of view, these critics are misguided. I believe the story did call for an "outsider" entering the mystical, ancient China, and who to better personify it than somebody of a different skin and hair color? It wouldn't be as effective if an Asian dude played the part.

The fourth character in the team is played by a lady called Golden Sparrow. She's quite attractive, and lethal.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The theme - a fantasy and action flick is very appropriate as I remember their films of old, when Jackie Chan and Jet Li were known only to our side of the world.
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