Don't believe the hype
Posted April 22, 2008 1:12 pm (about 4168 days ago)There aren’t too many movies that make me want to go home and write about them. Forbidden Kingdom is one of those. Then again, I am procrastinating from grading. But that aside, I really didn’t like this movie. I guess I should’ve read the reviews or gone to the site and at least got some background information. I knew it starred Jet Li and Jackie Chan so I really looked forward to its release. Even looking at the poster, it gives the impression that they’re the central characters. Instead, they are both supporting characters to a White guy(!), although they do have significant roles. On the positive side, there were some interesting fighting scenes, although nothing spectacular. If you’ve watched a number of martial arts films, it may be hard to be impressed, but something that movies like Hero had going for them were the colors and cinematography. Show us something new! The ones in TFK were good, but nothing for the ages. Li Bing Bing also appears in the film as a beautiful but deadly evil-doer and shows us some engaging fighting skills.
So, back to the White guy. Does race matter? Yeah, if it’s a martial arts film; particularly one starring two of the most popular actors of the genre. In a larger context, does the world really need more films about White guys being the central characters in Asia? I mean, do we need a film about Ide Imin to be told from a White guy’s perspective. Oh yeah, that happened. How about a Native American tale starring Kevin Costner? Oops. That happened too. I’m not saying anything new, but I was surprised in this film, again, because it stars two of the largest film stars in the WORLD playing supporting roles. While Li (Jet) helped piece the story together, this definitely was geared towards a mainstream American audience. Given the context of race relations and Asians/Asian Americans in American film, this doesn’t rise above other films, including the Chinese girl falling for the White guy (for some reason she refers to herself in third person until he kills her nemesis), all of the Chinese characters having thick accents and the dialogues of fortune cookies (even Chan’s third generation Chinese American from Philly), the White guy picking up enough martial art skills to beat down hoards of imperial guards (although he, thankfully, can’t beat Chan, Li, or the other main characters) and the old Chinese guys having eye brows long enough to braid.
There were some subtle references to classic kung fu flicks, and more obvious ones like Drunken Master or Bride With White Hair, but the story was fairly cheesy. A backdrop of the film is the Monkey King tale (one of my favorites growing up), but the sequences telling his tale were poorly done and the make up was horrible. The costumes in the original Planet of the Apes were better.
At any rate, you get the point. I didn’t like this one. Granted, there were some funny moments and at times it seemed as if Chan and Li were in on the joke, but there are just too many other better films out there, martial-arts related or otherwise. In term of another current film about Chinese worth seeing, try to catch Hollywood Chinese about the history of Chinese and Chinese Americans in U.S. films. It’s not as action-packed as The Forbidden Kingdom, but it does give some great history, including clips from the first Chinese American film ever made, which coincidentally happened in my current hometown of Oakland, CA. This original film was directed by a woman back near the turn of the century. On a broader scale, check for Planet B-Boy, about b-boy crews from Vegas, France, Korea, and Japan. It gets off to a slow start and I’m pretty burnt out on hip hop films, but the dancing and back stories were pretty engaging. I don’t gravitate towards documentaries, but of the last three movies I paid to see, these two were hands down better than my “fun” movie.