Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
The Forbidden Kingdom is a great geek movie. This is not meant as a criticism by any means; it takes a lot of courage to be a geek (or to write for a website that caters to them). The kid at the center of the film is a bit of a geek himself. He spends most of his time watching kung fu movies and playing video games of the same genre. The rest of the time he’s usually getting beat up by some local thugs. He lives in south Boston, a fairly rough part of town to say the least, and his best friend is an elderly Asian man who owns a pawnshop. The shop contains a golden staff that the man has owned for a long time yet claims belongs to someone else, and the boy is enchanted by it.
One day the bullies make the boy take them to the elderly man’s shop so they can rob him. When things go awry, the boy finds himself magically transported back in time to ancient China. There, he meets a vagabond/kung fu master (Jackie Chan) who seems to know quite a bit about the history of the staff, and he tells the boy that it belongs to someone known as the Monkey King, a warrior who’s been imprisoned by the Jade War Lord. Until the staff is returned to him, the kingdom will remain under the oppressive leadership of the war lord. The boy asks Chan to teach him some kung fu so that he can help get the staff back to Monkey King.
If Chan’s character reminds you of Mr. Miyagi on first blush, the ensuing training sequence is also reminiscent of The Karate Kid. In fact, the film revels in these similarities, and has great fun with it. For example, when the boy asks Chan to teach him the real thing, Chan obliges by whacking the boy on the arm and saying “That’s a strike, tomorrow I’ll show you a block.” Along the way they meet a beautiful girl known only as Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) whose specialty is throwing small daggers into the hearts of bad guys. Then there is the Silent Monk (Jet Li), with whom Chan has an electrifying and exhausting fight upon first meeting, but soon realizes is on his side. It doesn’t take long before both Chan and Li are teaching the boy to fight, and while this might be great fun for them, the boy ends up taking quite the beating. The Jade War Lord isn’t the only villain they need to worry about; there is also a wicked witch (Li Bing Bing) plotting their demise.
I have already seen reviews of The Forbidden Kingdom that say the film will not appeal to those over 16 years old. These critics don’t seem to understand that geekiness does not fade with age. If you were prone to liking this movie at six, then you are almost certain to enjoy it at sixty. Director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) and writer John Fusco (Young Guns) are clearly setting out to make a film that both adores and gently mocks its genre. Their sense of humor is prevalent throughout, and while the fight sequence are way over the top, that won’t stop audience members from cheering lustily at several points.
The Forbidden Kingdom won’t convert you if you aren’t a fan of kung fu movies, but to put an age restriction on it is quite “unwise and unkind” as an old kung fu master might put it.