Gimmicky, Cliched, and Just Plain Stupid
JLFM - wrote on 02/18/13
I have seen relatively few karate/kung-fu oriented films, so The Forbidden Kingdom, I knew, was going to be a bit different than what I was used to seeing in films. But if the average kung-fu film is anything like The Forbidden Kingdom, I will certainly be staying far away from the genre for a very long time.
In a cliche-ridden plot, as preposterous as it is formulaic, kung-fu nerd, Jason, finds a mysterious looking staff in a video store, that sends him back in time to ancient China where he meets Lu Yan, an immortal and intensely skilled kung-fu master who, along with a girl named Sparrow and The Silent Monk, go on a long journey to free the Monkey King.
Yup, you read that right; the Monkey King.
There are so many things that I disliked about this film and so many things it did wrong, I could go on for days. I'll have to settle with explaining the key errors in the following paragraphs.
Let's start with the plot which covers the over-used concept of a wanna-be wimp being trained by a master at whatever art the wanna-be has always dreamed of. It's been done many times before. Karate Kid, Star Wars, The Sword in the Stone, etc. Having the most in common with Karate Kid, The Forbidden Kingdom does little, if anything, to distinguish itself from the dozens of films with the same basic concept.
The story has tons and tons of cliches in it. Excluding the one listed previously, we have: 1) Depressing back story by supporting character. 2) Main character is bullied, only to beat the bullies up when he becomes trained. 3) Oh, and of course the inevitable "moment of doubt" scene where the hero begins to doubt his abilities. There are dozens more, though they make more sense in the context of the film.
Among the many trendy and overused gimmicks, the slow-motion shots are the most exhausted in this film. While I stopped counting at 10, I'd wager there are at least 30 slow-mo shots in this film.
Let's move on to the action, which is downright terrible. With most of the conclusions to these combat scenes being relatively inevitable, there's little presented here that builds any suspense. Choreography is pretty terrible, and frankly, none of the fights look real. The punches and kicks don't always connect with the opponent. Yet, they react with pain, and an embarrassingly exaggerated "punch" sound effect accompanies the blow. The action is gimmicky, tedious, and quickly dull.
The worst offender of the action scenes is the first one that appears at the beginning, which involves the Monkey King in combat with a group of nameless warriors. It's poorly made, looks cheap and phony, and is simply not a good omen for the rest of the film.
Though I could go on and on about the action scenes, I'll move on to the characters, almost all of which are old and tired stereotypes. We have the big bad villain in the form of the Jade Warlord. He has no motive, no memorable characteristics, and no personality. Then we have the main character, Jason, who is our typical underdog hero (portraying a character that's eerily similar to the one he played in Sky High). We have Sparrow (who, by the way, is the supporting character with the depressing back story I mentioned earlier), the personality-less romantic interest, though even the romance is toned down so that it's almost insignificant, making her seem completely unnecessary to the film. We also have The Silent Monk, who has no personality, like Sparrow, and his single unique feature is that he's played by Jet Li. And whoever came up with the frequently giggling and very weird Monkey King should be given a good slap in the head.
All of these characters are acted blandly (though some of that may have to do with their equally bland characters). The only bright spot in this area (and the only bright spot in the film) is Jackie Chan's performance of Lu Yan. In a role that could only be described as an Asian version of Jack Sparrow, Chan plays an often drunk karate master that provides a few smiles, and the only noteworthy performance and character in the film.
The score, composed by David Buckley is fairly poor. Relying on kung fu cliches and occasionally electric guitars, Buckley's score is forgettable and dull.
Crammed with cliches, poorly made action scenes, undeveloped characters, and kung fu camp, The Forbidden Kingdom looks like a cheap, made-for-TV disaster. While it's worth seeing for unintentional laughs (and you will get quite a few), there's little of redeeming value here. At The Forbidden Kingdom's high point, Lu Yan is making wisecracks about Jason's lack of kung-fu skill. At it's lowest point, Jet Li is urinating on Jackie Chan's head.
Just kidding! That was probably the high point.