When I first heard that Jackie Chan and Jet Li were going to be in a film together, my heart leapt. When I saw which movie, it sank. Kid's movies don't generally make for good martial arts cinema.
Still, I was hoping that the Rob Minkoff who co-directed The Lion King would show up, and not the one who directed The Haunted Mansion. I was hoping that the John Fusco who wrote Thunderheart would show up, and not the one who wrote The Babe.
Even if neither of options things panned out, I chose to believe that combining Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and legendary fight choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen could overcome any amount of saccharine fairy tale nonsense.
I was wrong.
The Forbidden Kingdom, while not without its moments of charm, humor, or kick-assery, is nowhere near the level any film involving those three legends should be. Even if the direction and screenwriting were crap (they're not, but they're not great, either) the fight sequences at least should be top notch. But I can find better work in each of those artists' resumes without looking very far. This would be a mediocre kung fu flick by any standards, but it's much more disappointing with the talent involved. The cheese (and it does get cheesy) just makes it that much more frustrating.
The actual fight between Li and Chan, half the reason I think most people will show up, is lengthy. Minkoff knows this is the film's raison d'etre and he gives it its due. However, it's still meh. I'm sitting there watching film history thinking, "Shouldn't I be enjoying this more? Shouldn't I not have the time or inattention to even think, 'Shouldn't I be enjoying this more?'"
When Chan faces off against gang members in Rumble in the Bronx, I'm not thinking about the crappy dialogue that got us there. When Jet Li takes on the bad guy at the end of Fist of Legend, I'm not musing on the fact that I'm still not sure why. When Master Yuen choreographs Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne in an empty room, I'm not marveling at the fact that I'm actually enjoying a Keanu Reeves film. Instead, in each of these cases I'm thinking, "This is so kicking my ass."
But for most of the Chan/Li fight, I'm thinking, "This is so not kicking my ass."
Is it simply because no fight could live up to that expectation? I don't think so. When Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen teamed up for the first time in SPL, there was a much touted final brawl, mostly improvised by the two masters. Not only were these two going to carry the climax of the film, they were going to wing it. That's a hella-build-up. And still, it delivers.
The teaming of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, or Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh, or Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh (maybe it's just Yeoh that's missing here) have all lived up to the hype (not to mention Donnie Yen and Jet Li).
Fortunately, I've heard tell that Li and Chan are going to try to work together again, and that this wasn't their first choice of projects to collaborate on, it was just the one where the timing worked out the best.
I would recommend The Forbidden Kingdom for a lazy Saturday afternoon where you're flipping around cable and it happens to be on. But don't expect it to live up to the fact that kung fu cinema history is being made.
From there I hoofed it across town to check out Timecrimes, a Spanish thriller about… well, there's the problem. If you know what kind of movie it is, it's fairly easy to predict about half of the film's twists. From the title alone, though, you've probably already guessed that it's a time travel chiller. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo does a good job of playing with the paradoxes of the genre, infusing the film with a welcome sense of humor. In fact, Timecrimes is as much dark comedy as it is Twilight Zone. I was a little underwhelmed with where it chose to take its premise, but your mileage may vary, and either way it makes for good post-flick coffee shop fodder.