Film Length: 104 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Languages: 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), English 5.1 EX, English 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Cast: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Yifei Liu
The Forbidden Kingdom has a tremendous hook: Jackie Chan and Jet Li together in the same film. For most martial arts aficionados, this first collaboration between the two kung-fu superstars is enough reason alone to check out the movie. So, is there a decent film experience underneath the shiny wrapping of this premise? In most ways, yes, but not without a few hiccups along the way.
Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) is an everyday average teenager with a debatably unhealthy obsession with martial arts movies. During one of his regular visits to the local Chinese pawn shop, he stumbles across a bo staff he recognizes from a dream he’d had earlier. When the store is robbed that evening, Jason runs off with the staff in an attempt to keep the thieves from stealing it. Cornered by the thugs with nowhere to go, Jason is magically transported back in time to ancient China.
Now in the past, Jason is befriended by Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), an apparent drunk, who helps him escape a village raid by the soldiers of the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). After the flight from the village, Jason learns of the staff’s origins and that his destiny is to return it to the rightful owner: the legendary Monkey King (Jet Li). During his journey, Jason is also aided by Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) and The Silent Monk (Jet Li, yes he actually plays both characters).
Naturally, the Jade Warlord wants the staff for himself and sends his mercenary/lieutenant Ni Chang a.k.a The Bride with White Hair (Bingbing Li) to retrieve it from the group. What follows is an exciting cat and mouse game of survival while Jason is instructed in the ways of kung-fu by Lu Yan and The Silent Monk.
The Blu-Ray of The Forbidden Kingdom really looks fantastic. The picture is sharp, clear, and full of nuance thanks to the high detail. The movie was shot mostly on location and the vitas of China are exquisite, brought to life by the Blu-Ray’s superior definition. In particular, the first confrontation with The Bride in a field of blooming cherry blossoms is a great example of the natural beauty of the land.
The 7.1 DTS HD track has great depth and dimension and brings the locations and fight scenes to life. Speaking of fight sequences, the bass is just unreal on this movie. From the opening credits with the Monkey King to the final confrontations between all the characters, the LFE channel is there emphasizing the action.
All the bonus goodies presented here are pretty good, with quick bits of details provided that cover almost all the aspects of the making of the film.
“Dangerous Beauty” gives some nice, albeit brief, insight into the characters Golden Sparrow and The Bride with White Hair. Interviews with the two actresses who played them offer some decent “behind the curtain” info but it ultimately doesn’t provide much.
“Discovering China” showcases the amazing locales that the filmmakers traveled to while scouting locations for the film.
“Filming in Chinawood” is interesting in that it puts a spotlight on the group of buildings used for the times when shooting on a set was required. In addition to serving as a set complex, Chinawood is also treated as a tourist attraction to the local Chinese.
“Monkey King and the Eight Immortals” brings the focus onto the Chinese legends used by screenwriter John Fusco to create the story for The Forbidden Kingdom.
“Previsualization” gives some decent insights into the aspect of preparing for filming CGI-laden movies by using previsualization to plan the scene before its actually filmed.
“Deleted Scenes” Obviously, these are some deleted scenes pulled from the final cut of the movie. There’s nothing here that the film is worse off for losing as most of these scenes are just filler. Still, for deleted scene junkies and film completists, I’m sure there’s something here to enjoy.
“Bloopers” There’s some really good fun here, as most Jackie Chan movies have some great outtakes and goof ups.
“Bonus View Picture in Picture”. I didn’t get a chance to review this since my Blu-Ray player couldn’t get the audio portion of the PiP feature working. I’ve since replaced my player and will review this feature and add it into this thread shortly.
The 2nd disc contains a digital (non hi-def) download of the movie to put in your iTunes, etc. For those who are interested in this option, this is a nifty feature but I really hope that that 2nd disc isn’t bringing the price of purchase up for those of us who aren’t going to utilize it.
Earlier I said that, for the most part, the movie is an enjoyable experience, and it is. Where it falls short is the fleshing out of some of the main characters. Yu Lan and the Bride are interesting roles but are never given development beyond the “I’m-a-good-guy, I’m-a-villain” phase which is a real shame because there’s some good stuff there waiting to be mined. Why is Yu Lan an immortal? The Bride with White Hair could be particularly captivating with some more screen time. Why is she so jaded? What were her origins? Granted, I’m confident these questions are explained in the legends of the immortals and such, but to leave such questions open in a film where they are given front and center plot points is questionable.
All in all, The Forbidden Kingdom is a fun, entertaining movie. The pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, combined with the choreography of Woo Ping, makes for some absolutely dazzling fight sequences that should definitely be seen. Their duel in the Monk’s hideaway is spectacular and well worth the price of admission. A fun movie is still fun, regardless of some minor character development flaws so I give The Forbidden Kingdom my recommendation.