News From Terre Haute, Indiana

At the Movies

April 22, 2008

Chan vs. Li in ‘Forbidden Kingdom’

HOLLYWOOD — Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li: This time, it’s personal!

Actually, these two martial arts masters have never faced each other before, which in theory is the primary allure of “The Forbidden Kingdom.” But while the first (and only) time they fight each other is swollen with anticipation and indeed thrilling, the rest of the movie is a solid, though forgettable, family-friendly action flick.

Longtime animation director Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King,” “Stuart Little”), working from a script by John Fusco (“Young Guns”), tells a story inspired by the Chinese legend of the Monkey King.

Scrawny Boston teenager Jason (Michael Angarano), who’s obsessed with kung fu movies yet frequently gets beaten up by bullies with wicked-awful New England accents, magically ends up one day in the countryside of ancient China. A powerful staff, which Jason discovers in a Chinatown pawn shop run by the wisecracking Old Hop (Chan), sends him back in time. He must return the fighting stick to its rightful owner, the mischievous Monkey King (Li), to free him from imprisonment by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou, smothered in ornate robes and blue eye shadow).

Jason gets help in his quest from two disparate teachers: the stumbling Lu Yan (Chan again, revisiting his Drunken Master persona) and the Silent Monk (Li again, all restrained charisma). Also along for the ride is the Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei), a young warrior seeking revenge against the warlord for killing her parents.

Sparrow has an annoying habit of referring to herself in the third person — “She’s not a child, not anymore,” she says of herself — and seems awkwardly wedged in as a potential love interest for the innocent Jason. But her presence does set up the inevitable catfight with the White-Haired Demoness (Li Bing Bing), a sort of Asian Christina Aguilera whom the Jade Warlord has dispatched to retrieve the staff for himself.

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