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Blu-ray Review: The Forbidden Kingdom

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Last year, Jet Li battled Jason Statham in the R-rated disappointment War, in which the two stars clashed for all of 30 seconds. While Forbidden Kingdom isn’t an all-out epic clash between Jackie Chan and Jet Li, at least they’re on screen constantly, not to mention that they have a spectacular brawl early into the film. This semi-family friendly martial arts epic is a blast and fun to watch, capitalizing on its potential… unlike War.

Michael Angarano stars alongside Chan and Li as one of those kids who manages to get sucked back through time due to his destiny. He fits in well with the two martial arts stars surprisingly, and also manages to keep up with the choreography as if he’s been doing this for years.

The storyline is based on a Chinese tale, "Journey to the West." Regardless, it’s been done. All of the flying martial arts, flowery fields, and battles have been seen on screen before. What’s different here is the style, comedic edge, visual spectacle of the fights.

There’s enough going on in every one of the extensive fights, which take up quite a bit of screen time. Multiple fighting styles, bodies crashing through walls, swords clashing, and arrows flying are only a small part of the choreography. The fights are inventive and thoroughly satisfying. They’re shot well too, focusing on close-ups without taking away from the scale.

Forbidden Kingdom comes in with a PG-13 rating, although it’s hard to believe it’s for violence as stated. There are a number of instances of language, and here it simply feels out of place. The light-hearted tone and kid friendly story don’t balance well with said dialogue. Otherwise, this is family fare with mild violence at the worst.

While this may not have been the ideal vehicle for Chan and Li to finally meet (they do only have one fight against each other), this is still a fine piece of modern martial arts filmmaking. It has energy, the scenery is lively, and the comedic style is handled without getting in the way of the story as a whole. This is the perfect way to kill 100 minutes.

The first reaction to Forbidden Kingdom on Blu-ray is “wow.” This is a stunning, nearly flawless, and remarkable presentation. Detail is incredibly high, and enriched by bold colors. Contrast is superb, and the black levels never let up. This transfer is as sharp as you can possibly imagine. The only complaint is during complex long shots, when minor artifacting can be seen by the trained eye. It’s nitpicking at the worst.

If you’re picking up a Lionsgate disc, you’re nearly guaranteed an all-out audio presentation, whether the film needs it or not. Forbidden Kingdom does need it, and it gets one. This DTS HD 7.1 mix is booming. The low end is strong, delivering a solid punch whenever a blow is landed. The surrounds are incredibly active, capturing motion in everything, from swinging swords to bodies flying through the sound field. Also, the audio mix between dialogue, the soundtrack, and the fighting is perfect. Nothing is lost.

Extras look stacked on the back of the case, but carry little substance. A commentary from Rob Minkoff and writer John Fusco is up first, followed by a string of six featurettes, coming in around 40 minutes. Deleted scenes last eight minutes (mostly skippable), and bloopers run equally as long, offering up a couple of decent laughs. A picture-in-picture feature covers everything, from behind-the-scenes to storyboards.

The Blu-ray Profile 2.0 feature included here is MoLog, and it could be the stupidest thing a movie studio has ever put on plastic. Users literally take cheesy clip-art, slap it over the film, and “share” it with other users. Who wants this crap? Even worse, the tutorial makes mistakes, which you have to sit through and watch the corrections if you want to learn this stuff.

The opening credits are loaded with references to classic martial arts films. Fans will have some fun picking through them to find all of their favorite stars, but for those not in the know, rest assured all of them are in there for a purpose.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.