Sarasota Film Festival: The Forbidden Kingdom

Sarasota Film Festival added The Forbidden Kingdom to their schedule at the last minute, and my friend and I got a chance to catch the screening last Saturday. It's a pretty good film, but it works more as a cult-ish comedy than as a martial arts epic.

The audience was pretty sparse, and we could tell at the end walking out that most of them thought they were going to see something on par with Crouching Tiger or Hero. Who could blame them, just look at this TV spot:

But when you realize that everyone in the film speaks English and it stars this guy

whose character is named Jason Tripitikas and calls things "sick" you might start to think you've been duped too. That actor's name is Michael Angarano, and while his stunts in the film are impressive (Angarano's family is filled with dance professionals) his character sticks out like... a white teenager from Boston in a film with Jackie Chan and Jet Li set in China. The filmmakers seem to be aware of this, and luckily they play it up to a point that's almost campy. Jason's rival (played by Morgan Benoit) is a white teenage bully motherfucker with gang in tow. That rival is so overly stereotypical I had to bite my lip to keep from bursting out laughing.

Once you get over the ridiculous caricatures it's easy to get into the film. The biggest draw of this thing is that it features Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Their interplay works really well, especially when they stop speaking in English and start kicking ass. Ninety percent of the film takes place in an ancient-China fantasy world where Jason must learn kung fu and quest to return a fighting staff to the mythical Monkey King. The on-screen violence is limited in order to get the PG-13 rating, and that's made obvious be several deaths that happen just out of the shot. However the sets and landscape panoramas are awesome, the action well choreographed and the special effects seamless.

The plot suffers at times though. For instance Jackie Chan's character at one point refuses to travel with Jason because he wouldn't be able get the wine he needs for his drunken style along the way. Five minutes later he's along for the ride anyway with no explanation for change of mind other than being asked to teach Jason. The biggest problem is many of the major plot developments are obvious from miles away, including the ending. The dialog can be funny, but other times it's just hokey.

Purposeful humor is sprinkled throughout the movie, including a great pee bit, but this makes it feel like the story is flipping between genres. I enjoyed the film and I think it would be great to see with a few buddies while out on a Friday night, but this isn't something I'd run out and get on Blu-ray to play on my (hypothetical) high-def television with 5.1 surround sound. Entertaining but only memorable for the two legendary stars.


Funk Xero said...

Nice review but think you might want to put spoilers here or there possibly.... just saying.

Boe Jenjamin said...

Psh what spoilers? I was being as ambiguous as possible.

Jim Harper said...
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