Mike revels in the Jackie Chan/Jet Li combo in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM

They've finally gotten together and locked kung fu horns on the big screen, it's fast-paced, fun, and just a little bit silly but there's plenty of good to be found in this Hollywood - martial arts crossover for the younger market.

It's finally here, after years and years of people thinking "How has this never happened?" we've finally seen the day arrive. The two greats of popular, Westernized Kung Fu movies have finally got together, and it's a glorious (if somewhat unexpected) union. You see, whilst THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is a kick-ass fightin' movie, it's also an unwaveringly American, Hollywood movie designed for teenage kids. Confused? I was. Until I saw it! Smacking a little of THE KARATE KID and dragging with it odd attachments to Tarantino, largely through the character of an evil ninja witch woman, the film revels in its own veneer and exhibits a sheer joy in its playful and heavily stylised exterior. The title refers to an ancient part of China to which a young American boy is transported after falling off a roof whilst trying to prevent some hoodlums from robbing an elderly Chinese antiques dealer/DVD rental guy (played by Jackie Chan). When he lands and finds himself in China he soon meets a drunken immortal (also Chan) who quickly puts him to task. It turns out this young fella has managed to transport an incredibly important golden staff back with him, and is destined to return this staff to the fabled Monkey King (Jet Li.... yes, I'm serious) and thereby restore peace to the kingdom. On the way they meet a sombre monk (also Jet Li) and an angry orphan ninja girl named Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) who help him on his quest. And of course there's plenty of awesome fight scenes along the way, including the one we've all been waiting for which, I'm pleased to report, doesn't disappoint. What makes this film particularly interesting though is that a lot of it is built around caricatures. The young American hero Jason (Michael Angarano) really is just like the many bumbling yet somehow successful American teen heroes that came before him, and this gets pretty darn annoying at times. Particularly the predictable plot twists that keep cropping up at key moments. But more welcome are the caricatures adopted by Li and Chan, who both play amusing imitations of and wry comments on their usual typecast roles. As the sombre monk, Jet Li puts his usual stony face on in order to face down Chan's drunken master whilst Chan himself swaggers across the screen with usual comedically concealed deadliness. But their crowning performances come in their alter-egos. Jackie Chan shows great restraint as the elderly antique dealer in the old US of A whilst Jet Li delivers an unforgettable performance as the playful Monkey King (inspired by the old TV series MONKEY, JOURNEY TO THE WEST or MONKEY MAGIC depending on where you're from, which also plays on a TV in the background at the start of the movie in a great little pastiche). Not only is Li's performance superb for the now expected standard of martial arts, but how he switches his personality and his fighting style between the monk and the monkey king is a true piece of cinematic mastery reflecting both his talents and his joy in making this film. A movie with the childish simplicity of a coming of age drama like KARATE KID, great martial arts action to rival the likes of HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, the awesome Chan vs Li fight, the cinematic playfulness of Tarantino movies and the comedic playfulness of Jackie Chan Hollywood classics like RUSH HOUR. That's really a lot for your money in a movie, and although I would personally have preferred a little less of the corny kids movie stuff and occasionally thought the Tarantino witch moments jarred with the broader feel of the film it's still a lot of fun, and this is almost entirely thanks to the stellar performance of the two legends taking part whose collaboration was well worth the wait.


Michael J Edwards hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.