Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom (Minkoff, 2008)

The Forbidden Kingdom surpassed all my expectations for it - I was looking forward to a fun film with some cool fights. That's definitely what I got, but the film, although outwardly generic, was a lot more satisfying than I would've hoped for.

Primarily this film is about the fight scenes, which are beautifully choreograhped, as expected, by Yuen Woo-Ping. The face-off between Jackie Chan and Jet Li more than pays off in what is one of the most breathtaking sequences in an action movie that I've seen for a good while. There's nothing particularly new here, but the fight sequences are riveting.

Chan and Li are both superb, and even if this was a vehicle for the two of them to star together, they are perfectly cast as their - various - characters. Li gets to show off both a serious and a playful side to his art, Chan excells as the comic core of the film, while also providing the film with its most emotional content.

The characters may be quite cliched, but that's the nature of the story. It's a myth, a fable - the only character I was worried about no working was Jason, but he works brilliantly. Despite this being a story of American boy falls into Ancient China, the film doesn't fall into the trap of making him a) annoying or b) all-knowing. Jason succeeds because of what he learns in the Forbidden Kingdom, and not through anything he already knew from his own world.

Similarly, there are certain story threads - most notably Sparrow's story - that could have been handled in a horribly Hollywood-type way. Thankfully, this doesn't happen, and while, of course, the film is a nice, shiny big-budget production, it never gives away its heart and is a much better film for it.

The film isn't original, but it succeeds in entertaining and engaging from the outset to its end. The characters are colourful, the spectacle impressive and importantly the film has just the right amount of heart to make a perfectly light fantasy adventure. The people of Narnia could learn a thing or two from this film - warmth and a sense of humour really elevate this film beyond mediocrity.

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