The Forbidden Kingdom is a martial arts/fantasy romp that makes no excuses for itself. The movie isn’t supposed to be a thought-provoking emotional journey. It’s just good, clean fun with a lot of over-the-top violence thrown in. I sat down, gave my adult self a brief leave of absence, and thoroughly enjoyed myself with predictable plot twists, stunted character development, and villains who were just bad without getting into why they were villains.

Jackie Chan plays Lu Yan, an Immortal that drinks to keep his power flowing. Kind of like Popeye, only with wine instead of spinach. His kung fu is mighty, but more than that, he mugs for the camera and takes pratfall after pratfall in a way that only he can. I enjoy watching him work because he’s so good with facial expressions while he’s pulling off incredible feats and taking a lot of physical punishment.

Jet Li plays a dual role as the Monkey King and Sun Wukong, a somber monk. As the Monkey King, Li gets to access a humorous side of himself seldom seen in his movies. He’s been relegated to the tough guy role as either villain or hero in most of his films. When he first appeared in the movie in heavy makeup, I didn’t recognize him. It wasn’t till I watched him go into action that I knew who he truly was.

The movie centers around Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) as he tries to find his way in the real world. He loves kung fu movies and has made a friend of Hop, an old Chinese pawnbroker. After the initial setup where we see that Jason’s life isn’t really great, thugs force him to help them break into Hop’s shop. While there, Jason tries to protect a strange staff that Hop says has been there for a hundred years or so.

As the danger increases, Jason gets transported to a mystical world, joins up with Jackie Chan, and is told that he’s the Traveler, the one who will take the staff back to the Monkey King. From that point on, the movie turns into a road film, with death and adventure around every corner.

I loved the fantasy elements in the film. The choreography of the fight scenes was excellent. Jackie Chan and Jet Li were flawless, and it was awesome to see them working together for the first time. For martial arts enthusiasts, The Forbidden Kingdom is a visual treat.

Even better, the camera work takes advantage of the beautiful countryside and the elaborate-looking sets. I felt that if I could step back into ancient, mythical China, this is exactly what I would see. Angarano evidently picked up martial arts pretty effortlessly, because he looks good in action.

Golden Sparrow (Liu Yi Fei) provides a semi-love interest for Jason, as well as comic relief. She has a mission to kill the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) for murdering her parents. She also squares off agains Ni-Chang (Li Bingbing), a white-haired female warrior who wants the elixir of immortality.

I bought the Blu-ray version because I wanted the high-def experience and was willing to pay the extra bucks for it. The digital video was absolutely amazing, filled with detail and eye-popping color. The audio side of thing delivered thunder through the subwoofer and a range of sounds through the other speakers that followed the movements on the screen.

The Blu-ray also delivers interesting features. Although I was familiar with the legends of the Monkey King and the Eight Immortals, the video presentation was welcome and I saw new resources I hadn’t seen before. There were deleted scenes and commentary, but I have to admit that I was looking forward to the blooper reel. Jackie Chan movies generally include outtakes that run during the credits. I noticed them missing at once, but was relieved to see the inclusion of the blooper reel. Chan shows the mistakes that happened during the filming, but he also shows the accidents he suffered through. Viewers will find themselves torn between laughing out loud and cringing in sympathy.

Watching this kind of movie is a lot like buying a favorite candy bar. You’re not going to get anything new out of it, but that chocolaty deliciousness will hit the sweet spot – which was exactly what you were after when you bought that treat. I watched this with my son and we had a great time. I recommend this one for family nights and evenings when you just want to vege out.




The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian hit theaters with a lot of expectation. The book series has been popular since they were first published nearly fifty years ago, and they’ve never gone out of print. Earlier movie versions, animated and live-action, have been made of them. But after the success of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, fans hoped for more and Hollywood banked on another success.

I had a good time with the first movie. Taking my son with me enhanced the experience, though. His innocent glee stripped years away from me and eased me right back into my own childhood. The sights and sounds of the world were amazing, as they would have to be in order to grab the audiences lying out there in wait now. And the pacing of the movie was well done.

However, Narnia purists are going to have a problem with this version of the novel. Hollywood has strayed far from the path in making this sequel. Yes, it’s true, Narnia has been Hollywoodized and given the big box office treatment. Which means that more has been left out of the book than was kept in, and even more new material was shoveled into the story. In fact, a whole rivalry sequence between Caspian (Ben Barnes) and Peter (William Moseley) has been tossed into the mix, as well as Susan (Anna Popplewell) “crushing” on Caspian.

Also, the battle scenes are definitely more hardcore than they are in the book. And protracted. The novel dealt with them in a straight-forward manner and moved into the characters and the spirituality of the book.

But I have to give Hollywood its due. I’d wager most of the people buying tickets haven’t ever read the books, just as they hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings. They’re there packing the seats because they want to see adventure, excitement, and royal battles between good and evil.

I’d even read Prince Caspian to my son shortly after we watched The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. We’d read that book before the movie and he knew everything that was going to happen. He kept throwing hints to his mom during the movie. This time he really believed we hadn’t read the book because so much was different.

Hollywood chose to change the story, and I accepted that within a few minutes and simply enjoyed what was on the screen without proprietary interest. The special effects are awesome, the mythical beings are amazing, and the landscape is lush and incredible. My son was bowled over as Narnia once again unfolded before us. I have to admit, I was too.

Despite the differences in character and motivations, and the way the final battle was staged when Peter undertook single combat against Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), I had a great time. Susan stepped into the battles and became an amazing warrior (okay, I had to swallow hard at that one when I saw her first shooting men with her bow then using it as a staff to battle again in the thick of the fighting while wearing no armor). Peter was even more courageous than before, and naturally stepped into a leadership role. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) was a fierce fighter as well, and the young actor has certainly grown into the role. There is a fantastic scene where Lucy (Georgie Henley) blocks the retreating Telmarin army that had the audience laughing and cheering at the same time. The kids have changed.

The assault on the castle at night was terrific. My son and I sat on the edges of our seat and watched as the battle progressed and finally turned deadly. And when Aslan (Liam Neeson) stepped onto the screen, we were in Narnia fighting the good fight at the sides of the Narnians.

Maybe this isn’t a faithful interpretation of the original novel, but you’re not going to be able to find a much better early summer offering. I question the rating a little, because I would have bumped it up a notch due to all the physical action, the evil intent, and the PG rating isn’t warning enough.

With all the fantasy and superhero movies hitting the screens this summer, finding one that stands out head and shoulders above the others is going to be hard. I’ve decided not to stress over figuring out which one is the best, and instead concentrate on enjoying the feast!