'Forbidden Kingdom' Is a Doofy Union for Chan, Li

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Jet Li

Monkeyshines: Jet Li's Monkey King, trapped in more than just that stone. Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate hide caption

itoggle caption Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate

Jackie Chan and Jet Li, two well-known martial arts film stars, just finished their first collaboration. Morning Edition and Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan says their new movie, The Forbidden Kingdom, was not worth the wait.

The great martial arts films of the past had a hard-core integrity that reveled in exhilarating action and didn't worry much about market share. The Forbidden Kingdom keeps referring to arcane martial arts moves with names like the Buddah Palm and the dreaded Iron Elbow, but it never overcomes its overall doofiness.

'The Forbidden Kingdom'

Jackie Chan in 'The Forbidden Kingdom' i

Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) is a wise kung fu master who helps free a warrior, the Monkey King, from a warlord's evil clutches in The Forbidden Kingdom. Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate hide caption

itoggle caption Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate
Jackie Chan in 'The Forbidden Kingdom'

Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) is a wise kung fu master who helps free a warrior, the Monkey King, from a warlord's evil clutches in The Forbidden Kingdom.

Chan Kam Chuen/Lionsgate
  • Director: Rob Minkoff
  • Genre: Action-Adventure
  • Running Time: 113 minutes

Theoretically based on a Chinese epic, this brightly idiotic fantasy is really The Wizard of Oz in martial-arts drag.

All-American Judy ... er, Jason (Michael Angarano) gets transported magically to an unfamiliar world (ancient China) where he must deal with all manner of odd folks: kickboxing, Munchkin-like urchins, a floating white-haired witch, a flying monkey king, a magician emperor who lives in a far-off palace.

In place of ruby slippers, Jason has a magical staff he must deliver to a Jade Palace (at one point, he even travels on a yellow dirt road) to lift a curse. This requiring helpers, he meets three along the way — Jackie Chan, tipsy and rubber-limbed, Jet Li, stoic and stiff-backed, and Yifei Liu, courageous beyond what anyone expects.

Much kickboxing, karate-chopping and choreographed wire-work later, Jason finally arrives at the Jade Palace, and when the Wiz ... er, the Jade Emperor asks him what he wants, he says he'd really like to go home. (Couldn't he just click his heels?)

With flat dialogue, routine performances and big Jackie Chan-Jet Li match-ups largely obscured by all the fabric the two stars come swathed in, Forbidden Kingdom may do some business, but it isn't going to send anyone over the rainbow.

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