If you will excuse me kind readers, a little diversion. This is the first Hollywood/Western film I have spoken about on the journey, but I think the subject matter and the cast involved mean that it can comfortably sit in this blog.
“The Forbidden Kingdom” is probably most notable for finally pairing up two of the international stars of Asian Cinema, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And this means Box Office, which is a surprise that it has taken so many years to get them on screen together. However, it is not just about the names at the top of the Poster.
What we have here is a Fantasy Martial Arts epic. The not accidentally named Jason Triptikas (Michael Angarano) is a young American boy, somewhat obsessed with Kung Fu and the classic movies of the genre. He gets transported back to a mythical Ancient China, and encounters a selection of characters from Chinese Legend and Pulp Cinema/Literature. Think of it as an oriental “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” with a soupcon of “Alice in Wonderland” Of course there is a quest to be undertaken.
Now I am not a big fan of Martial Arts films (I don’t dislike them at all, they are just not my genre of choice), and my knowledge of some of these characters is spotty at best (ok, ok, I only knew of Monkey – but I was very lucky to watch the film with my super-knowledgeable and honorary “Things Fall Apart” staff member friend). But if I told you I really enjoyed the film, then I think that you will understand that a lot of quality is on show here.
First things first. I have this on Blu-Ray. And it is quite gorgeous. The colours are rich, and I am sure Ancient China has never looked more ravishing. If the scenery looks good, then extra marks have to be given to some of the costuming. The direction by Rob Minkoff is strong, and those are some of the best opening credits I have seen for a while – being both clever and totally sympathetic to the film’s influences.
However, it is far more than just a pretty bauble. Of course you get the obvious charisma of Chan and Li, but kudos must be given to some of the smaller parts, especially Li Bing Bing (as the Bride With The White Hair) and Crystal Liu (Golden Sparrow). Yes they are eye candy, but Liu especially really gets to show some acting ability. Even Angarano manages to avoid the Shia LaBeouf annoying young American shtick.
There are not as many fight scenes as you might expect, but those on display are of a high quality. Even better, the scenes are imbued with action generated by the actual events on screen, not by shaky camera work/quick cut/extreme close up, which is the current in vogue style of Hollywood action. Credit should be given to Woo-ping Yuen as the action choreographer.
My main criticism is possibly a little ironic. The movie spends an awful lot of time in exposition mode, which although helpful to a neophyte like me, might annoy the more savvy audience members.
At the end of the day, the film delivers on its promises and more. Recommended.