Being a fan of action films, kung fu films, and the thought of pitting actors against each other in mortal combat, there have been a number of actor combinations over the years that have spawned a number of conversations regarding who was "better." One of my favorites dates back to the 1980's and focused on pitting Steven Seagal against Jean Claude Van-Damme. Everyone knows that, in their primes, Seagal could win with one hand tied behind his back.
In more recent years, the discussions have turned towards the pairing of Jet Li and Jackie Chan, arguably the two premiere martial arts stars of the past generation. Now the argument can be settled - sort of. The Forbidden Kingdom pairs the legends in a family-friendly coming-of-age tale, in which they are, simultaneously, the main attraction and supporting players. It is a film I have been eagerly anticipating. I have discovered, though, that I cannot love it as much as I would have liked.
I may not love the film as I had so wanted to, but do not misconstrue this to mean I don't like the film, because I do. This movie is an absolute blast to watch. The story is interesting, the fights exhilarating, the acting is decent, and there is drama, comedy, fantasy. The Forbidden Kingdom has a lot to offer.
You may be wondering just what it is that holds the movie back from the potential greatness it had at the outset. This is where it gets a little funny. What holds it back from that potential is the same thing that makes it the perfect entry into kung fu cinema. The movie is very family-friendly. Yes, it is PG-13 for violence, but it is largely bloodless and there is a fantasy/comical aura to the proceedings.
At the center of the movie is the Monkey King, a character from the Chinese Epic, Journey to the West, who has also been central to the anime series, Saiyuki and Dragonball Z (which has its own film in production). The Monkey King (Jet Li) was a master of the martial arts and chi magic, and possessed a magical staff. He was also opposed by the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou), who was left in power by the Jade Emperor. The two battled, resulting in the Monkey King being trapped in stone. The only way to free him is to return his staff to his possession. Still with me? Good.