Monday, April 21, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

For years and years people tried to get me to watch The Princess Bride (1987), a schlock fest of good humor, good times, cheesy lines, and plain old fun. A few weeks ago I finally had the convergence of time and opportunity so was able to see it. I liked it a great deal just like everybody else who watches it.

It is kind of a unique blend of family fare, cheesy jokes, outlandish action, and that hint of villainy in the heroes that is just tough to match. However, The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) makes a pretty good stab at it.

It starts out with the stylized fighting of the Monkey King (Jet Li) in a sequence that will bring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2003) to the minds of most American movie watchers. Li brings a sense of fun to the role that we have seldom seen from him. It is great fun to watch. But once that sequence, mixed in with the title credits, has passed we get to the heart of the movie. The sequence is passed off as being a video-fueled dream of the hero Jason.

It has the mix of modern times and fairy tale kingdom as Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) is a modern day kung-fu obsessed fiend. He has seen the well known classics but also the "underground" and imported stuff. As an aside, it was interesting to see a Hollywood film promoting bootlegged movies of any sort as Jason admits he is purchasing boot-leg videos from Old Hop (Jackie Chan). Having your hero be an aficionado of bootleg movies is a pretty wide stretch for an industry so up in arms over that is a tacit "okay" of the process as long as it is Hong Kong you are ripping off...hypocrites.

Anyhow, Old Hop is a hard-drinking shop owner who feeds the movie-watching habits of Jason. When Jason is on his way home he is stopped by a girl long enough to allow the local bullies to catch up to him. In probably the weakest sequence in the movie, they force Jason to convince Old Hop to open his door. They then proceed to rob him. During the robbery, he breaks loose the staff that his Great-Grandfather started holding "until the person comes to pick it up who will return it to its rightful owner". Of course Jason ends up with the staff and is transported to ancient China.

Here he is rescued from the evil soldiers by Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), a hard drinking guy who may or may not be one of the Eight Immortals. Yan drinks constantly and must have wine at all costs. The role calls to mind his efforts in The Legend of Drunken Master (1994) as he recreates that fighting style and look.

Later they are accosted in an inn after Yan proves to be a beggar who does not pay for his wine. In the ensuing fight they are assisted by Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a girl who proves to be seeking revenge on the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).

This unlikely trio makes their way along with Yan trying to teach Jason kung-fu. In one hilarious sequence it seems they are going to go the Karate Kid (1984) route.

Jason: "All I have been doing is scything for two days. When are you going to teach me kung-fu?"
Yan slides off his horse, takes a big swig of wine and walks up to Jason. The audience, conditioned by the Karate Kid franchise is expecting some "wax on, wax off" blocking wisdom. Instead, Yan swings his cudgel and gives Jason a good whack. As Jason doubles over in pain Yu says, "That is called strike. Tomorrow I teach you block." I swear I am stealing that line for regular use. It was awesome.

Eventually the Silent Monk (Jet Li) steals the staff from Jason. The trio pursues him to a nearby temple where we are treated to Jet Li v. Jackie Chan. Oh, sure, it is "The Silent Monk v. Lu Yan" in the movie...but for fans of Chan and Li it was about watching two accomplished stars face one another. And it was highly entertaining.

They join in a guarded partnership where they fight about how to train Jason, a highly amusing sequence indeed. Of course, by the end of the movie they return the staff to the Monkey King, defeat the Jade Emperor, and Jason returns "home" to his time.

There, in yet another reference to the Karate Kid franchise he defeats the bullies with his new found kung-fu and, in a nod to The Princess Bride he meets Golden Sparrow as "Chinatown Girl" (hey, I did not do the credits...I would have given her a better name than that...) in the "real world" and the allusion is clear: she will become his girlfriend.

Forbidden is a very entertaining movie that calls to mind dozens of scenes that will be familiar to regular movie watchers. It has the feel good modern/ancient vibe of The Princess Bride but is a little bit edgier. The villains are fun to watch, the good guys likable, and there is a latent humor throughout the movie. This one may not become a classic...but it should.

And I won't reveal the twist at the end regarding the Silent Monk...but it is a GREAT touch. So good that I forgave the peeing on people joke.

1 comment:

Al said...

Sweet...I saw the preview at the Horton hears a who and was excited. I might have to try to watch it next weekend