Surprisingly, neither Chan nor Li is the main character here; Instead, the film’s protagonist is Jason (Michael Angarano), an American kid living in contemporary Boston.
During the opening few minutes, one learns that Jason’s a Hong Kong martial arts film buff who spends his days in Chinatown renting Hong Kong films from a mysterious old man.
One night he gets into a scrap with the local bullies at the old man’s place, and thanks to a magic staff, is teleported through space and time to ancient China.
Once there, he learns the staff belongs to the Monkey King, and with the help of a silent monk (Li), a drunken beggar (Chan), and a mysterious girl (Liu Yifei), they embark on a journey to return the staff.
The over-convoluted plot combines elements of Spielberg-like fantasy, ancient Chinese ancient mythologies (Monkey King) with nods to classic local martial arts films (Drunken Master, The Bride With White Hair, etc). It’s all over the top and silly but tolerable as long as it’s not take it seriously.
The selling point of the film is Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li, and the first meeting between the two icons results in a fight scene that’s great by Hollywood standards, but pales in comparison to Li and Chan’s Hong Kong work during the 80s and 90s.
Let it be known that this review was of the Cantonese dubbed version, which accounted for absurd scenarios where the main character spoke fluent Cantonese in ancient China.
Also, neither Chan nor Li did their own dubbing, yet another blow to local audiences used to hearing Chan’s voice. Then again, the concept of everyone speaking English in ancient China is just as ludicrous.
The single best element of the Forbidden Kingdom are the opening credits – a colorful, throwback-to-the-70s featuring still images of Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu and other local martial arts icons from the era. Once that’s over, much of this has been seen before.