To fully embrace “The Forbidden Kingdom,” you must dropkick your disbelief right out the door and go along with a silly plot. A bullied modern-day kid from Boston (Michael Angarano) is magically transported to ancient China to fulfill a sacred mission.
There are no slouching actors. Chan, who reverts to his old “Drunken Master” days, and Li, who’s impressive as the white-robed Silent Monk, are a hoot to watch together. The sad thing about this movie is how long it took for someone to get these two masters to work together, Chan is almost 60 and Li is in his late 40’s so when the two fight its alot of wire work and stunt doubles (which chan used to NEVER use) If this film was made 15 years ago it would have been the stuff of legends…..
And they both take on multiple characters. Chan, who’s been doing this stuff for what seems like about 50 years, takes on the role of drunken kung-fu master Lu Yan and Old Hop, the proprietor of a Chinatown pawnshop in modern Boston.
Li follows suit as the aforementioned Silent Monk (who talks). He also plays the legendary Monkey King. That’s the most interesting element, really. Li adapts a martial arts-for-laughs approach to the playful Monkey King. If you don’t know that’s a Chan trademark, you haven’t been to many martial-arts flicks.
The story wanders and lingers too long on each flying-fists confrontation. That’s the norm in any martial-arts movie.
The remarkable thing is that director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King,” “Stuart Little”) and screenwriter John Fusco (“Hidalgo,” “Young Guns”), who birthed this idea as a bedtime story for his kids, don’t look like cinematic interlopers on this foreign land.
Action choreographer Woo-Ping (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “The Matrix” trilogy) and director of photography Peter Pau (also “Crouching Tiger”) combine to give this “Kingdom” authenticity and a fantastic look.
Chan and Li, whose characters must turn the young American (Angarano) into a kung-fu warrior in a hurry, don’t just take on the signature white-haired demoness (Li Bing Bing) and her soldiers.
They battle it out in a beautiful, serene locale. In this case it’s China’s Plum Blossom Garden at Fangyan.
Angarano, also on screen in the dark drama “Snow Angels,” brings the right tone to a teen from America who has no idea how he wound up in the middle of do-or-die battles in ancient China. Much of the time he just looks confused, which is enough.
The American filmmakers even toss in a love interest for the displaced Yank. Young beauty Liu Yifei is a delicate but potentially deadly ally as Golden Sparrow, a musician with a grudge she has been harboring against wicked Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) since she was an orphan toddler.
This is a grandiose dose of kung fuey that probably shouldn’t work, but delivers.