In gong-fu movie lore, it has long been foretold that one day two of the greatest stars of the genre would come together one day on the screen. That day has come in “The Forbidden Kingdom,” which stars two of the latest and greatest stars of the martial arts movie genre – Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
Combined, both men’s careers span over 30 years and over 100 movies, in their native China and here in the United States; that’s a lot of kung-pow kicking and punching. They both decided to make their American crossovers around the same time during the 1990s – Chan’s first hit in the U.S. was “Rumble in the Bronx” (1995) and became a mega-star due to the “Rush Hour” movies, while Li made his American debut as the lead villain in “Lethal Weapon 4” (1998), received his first English-speaking starring role in “Romeo Must Die” (2000), and earned critical respectability with “Unleashed” in 2005.
Now, we’re at “The Forbidden Kingdom.” I like both stars. My friends and I, like many other martial arts movie fans, have eagerly awaited this cinematic pairing for some time.
Starting in the present – 2008 – an American teenager named Jason (Michael Angarano) who has an obsession with gong-fu movies is magically transported back in time to ancient China by the long-lost staff of the fabled Monkey King (Li, in one of two roles in the film), where he learns he has been chosen to return it to him. 500 years earlier, the mischievous martial arts master Monkey King had been imprisoned in stone by the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).
On his journey, Jason comes across the drunken beggar Lu Yan (Chan, in one of two roles in the film), who teaches him gong-fu so that he will be able to take on the Jade Army. They are also aided by The Silent Monk (Li, in his other role) and the orphan assassin Sparrow (Yifei Liu). There is one particularly funny sequence where Lu Yan and The Silent Monk fight over how to train Jason to defend himself – with Lu Yan’s unorthodox methods and the Monk’s more traditional approach.