So you want the good news first or the bad news?
Okay, the good news: The Forbidden Kingdom is a surprisingly entertaining and fast-paced tale of Jason (Michael Angarano), a kung-fu obsessed teenager who gets miraculously transported through time to Ancient China, where he learns martial arts from two masters (Jet Li and Jackie Chan) and helps vanquish the evil Jade King.
The bad news: The long-awaited pairing of Li and Chan doesn’t quite live up to the hype (how could it?), and true kung fu fans are bound to find the whole film overly simplistic and juvenile.
On second thought, perhaps that’s the evil genius of the film: Hardcore kung fu fans are going to see it, no matter what—wild dragons couldn’t keep them away from a Li/Chan smackdown. But non-fans (particularly young ones) will dig the simple story and Disneyfied journey of our plucky hero. As Jason, Angarano is likeable and suitably athletic, but perhaps not dreamy enough to fulfil the Zac Efron quotient. As for Chan, he’s still a most graceful clown-warrior, part Bruce Lee, part Charlie Chaplin. But his English has also gotten quite good (could there be a better teacher than motor-mouthed Chris Tucker?) and he’s developed a nifty way with a one-liner. (At one point, when Chan’s Lu Yan is injured, a village elder says he will dispatch the walking monks to find an alcohlic elixer. “Couldn’t they be running monks?” Chan says, with all the droll timing of a Borscht Belt professional.) It’s Li who’s the real revelation here, at least to me. He plays two parts: The Silent Monk is standard Li fare—reserved and deadly. But the hyperkinetic Monkey King has a goofy abandon I’ve never seen from the tightly coiled actor.
In the end, we can only hope that one day Li and Chan are teamed up in a film they can really sink their teeth into. Until then, this will do.