For the chop-socky fans out there the news that Jackie Chan and Jet Li were finally going to be in a film together must have been exciting news. While not big on martial arts movies in general, this reviewer is a BIG fan of the Chinese fable ‘Journey to the West', so it came as some surprise that a movie (very loosely) inspired by it came and went in the cinema without coming up on his radar...

‘Journey to the West' is an ancient Chinese story about the Stone Monkey King (remember ‘Monkey Magic', 30-somethings?), who, along with a couple of other fantastical characters, protects a Monk on his mission to travel across China and acquire sutras (or ancient scrolls) from India. This film is not that story, merely plucking a few selected elements from the fable to construct a coming of age story around an American boy.

In ‘The Forbidden Kingdom' a young American kid (Michael Angarano) is charged with the task of reuniting an ancient staff with its rightful owner who just happens to be Monkey. After a group of local hoods try to off him, the kid falls from a roof and awakens in... ancient China. With the help of a drunken immortal (Jackie Chan), a hotter than hot young woman with a grudge (Liu Yifie) and a stoic monk (Jet Li), he faces all kinds of danger and magic before having to face off against an evil warlock - the dude responsible for encasing the Monkey in stone to free the Monkey, their world from oppression, and return himself back to modern day America.

Forbidden KingdomFor the first time in a long while a live-action kid's film seems to have straight forward story they can follow, and enough visual spectacle to keep them happy. This is far from a masterpiece, but their were moments within that reminded me of some of the classic adventure movies from my childhood. While this is far from an adaptation of my favourite Chinese fable, it is a solid, if formulaic, adventure story.

Where does it fail to grab? Well, the writing ain't hot. The dialogue is a little stilted and oversimplified (apparently tailored to most of the cast, who call English their second language). The plotting leaves no room for any surprises, really, and even a well-travelled story needs a few twists and turns to keep one engaged. There is not enough interaction between the good guys and bad guys to remind folk there is a real threat to this Yankee whelp. Golden Sparrow's (Liu's) habit of referring to herself in the third person also grew tried fast.

The fighting - let's face it, a big reason why people watch the two leads comes thick and fast. There are some impressive, if lengthy, bouts of choreographed splendour, with Chan and Li's face off being a highlight. But, have to say, for the copious amounts of biffo in this flick nothing really stood out as new or inventive.

The direction from Rob Minkoff ranged from breathtaking to shameless theft (Just look at the scenes where the good guys talks with the Heavenly Hosts and tell me you don't expect Frodo and Gandalf to be in the background, scratching their arses). However, this director can frame some spectacular landscapes that exceed, let alone meet, its fantasy peers. He delivers a beautiful world that outshines its cast.

One more annoyance was the score by David Buckly, which became relentlessly overbearing to the point of intrusion. The man didn't seem to want a single moment of quiet throughout the whole picture.

Well, those who wanted Chan and Li in the same frame now have their wish. I can see hardcore martial arts enthusiasts wanting something a little more meaty from them. But as a kid's pick on a lazy Sunday afternoon, you could do a lot worse. I would be curious to see Buckly take on another film of this type with better characters and writing might be a new Peter Jackson in the house.

Component Grades
3 Stars
2 stars
DVD Experience
1 Star


DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.78:1

Subtitles: English; Spanish

Language and Sound: Closed Captioned; English: DTS 7.1 HD

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; deleted scenes; audio commentary; behind-the-scenes featurette; making-of featurette; cast and crew interviews; bloopers.

* Commentary
o Feature-length commentary track with with Director Minkoff and Writer Fusco.
* Featurettes
o Kung Fu Dream Team (11:00)
o Dangerous Beauty (06:00)
o Discovering China (08:00)
o Filming in Chinawood (08:00)
o Monkey King and the Eight Immortals (09:00)
o Storyboards and Previz (06:00)
* Blooper Reel - seven-minutes of goofs
* Deleted Scenes
* Second disc: with a digital copy of the film

Number of Discs: 2 with Keepcase Packaging