By Keen Zhang
Additional reports and translation contributed by Li Xiaohua
This film is the first collaboration between the top two internationally acclaimed living kung fu legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Their names, unfortunately, are the only positive draw regarding The Forbidden Kingdom.
But it's not surprising that millions of audiences around the world bought admission tickets to see how the two top martial arts masters fight with each other. Indeed, the hype and stunts have generated a huge payback: a US debut of US$20.90 million and a China take of over 100 million yuan. The Forbidden Kingdom in China also became one of the highest netting movies during its maiden weekend of showing.
Rob Minkoff, former director of the blockbuster Lion King, was hired by China's Huayi Brothers studio to promote western favor for the film and to pay tribute to the only popular Chinese film language in the rest of the world outside China - kung fu.
Maybe it was done to please American market; in any case he added an American boy (Michael Angarano), who is obsessed with Hong Kong cinema and kung fu classics, to the storyline, and called him "the Skywalker", at least in the Chinese version, - I wonder if George Lucas knows?
The boy has a destiny and mission to bring the legendary stick weapon to a classic Chinese mythological creature - Monkey King (Jet Li) - to save the world. Next the director rushes the boy into a fantasy dream (and forces us to be in it too), to be a hero and help the alternative world to defeat evil and re-establish order.
The storyline is weak, silly, simple and old-school. Recklessly inserting such a boy into the movie seems desperate. Assembling so many fictional figures from Chinese legendary tales doesn't help an international audience to understand Chinese mythology and culture, but rather makes the film go the way of Alien vs Predator. Most of the movie is forgettable, except for snatches of some rare oriental charm exuded by the two beautiful young Chinese actresses Li Bingbing and Liu Yifei.
But in the end, the viewer discovers that the only outstanding moments are the kung fu scenes. Or should we clarify and say that the plot of the film revolves around kung fu, since every scene is set to create opportunities for major fights.
No wonder why the Chinese title of the movie is "Kings of Kung Fu", as suggested by the project's cinematographer Peter Pau, instead of The Forbidden Kingdom. The stunning fight between Jackie Chan and Jet Li, even though both have passed their prime, wows spectators with the breathless actions and various martial arts styles.
Indeed, this film could end up as a martial arts cult film. However, it lacks the down-to-earth feelings, wit and humor, sincerity, reasonable and logic plots, and a dramatic surprise in the fashion of all of Bruce Lee's films. If Jackie Chan and Jet Li wanted to sell Chinese factors and cultural identities in this way, I'm sorry to say that they've done a shoddy job of it.