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Don't believe the hype

Posted April 22, 2008 1:12 pm (about 4047 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.

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.

Comments

1. Mike said at April 26, 2008 5:28 am:

To be cynical, I think it has more to do with selling seats than with any artistic direction. By placing the white guy as the main character, they may be just catering to their main audience's ego: Asians are just supporting actors to the great White hope.

2. Mike said at May 9, 2008 4:52 am:

What's up with them speaking English as well? It reminds me of meetings here in Taipei where there's one guy, so all 15 other people will speak English to cater to that one guy.

3. Daniel said at May 16, 2008 1:32 am:

I agree 100%. It's all about getting bodies in seats. It's just a shame that with the success of movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," people still don't accept that movies more loyal to the genrea can also make money!

4. Roman B. said at June 12, 2008 8:13 pm:

I agree with Mike as well. This whole thing is about seats if it wasn't they wouldn't have lied to you about the supporting roles. I mean I never saw a glimpse of a white guy in the trailer. So I would have been fooled so quickly. But honestly the world revolves around money and if the product isn't perfect the consumer doesn't buy. It's like the jacked up candy bag in the box at the liquor store that stays there for months because everybody wants the candy with the best packaging. Image sells, do you think people would take a second look at Tyra Banks if she wasn't a super model, not saying she doesn't have any other qualities, but you get it. America is one big package and when image gets put into place with products, you might get the short end of the stick and be unsatisfied.

5. Tania said at June 13, 2008 6:47 am:

i agree becuase it's basically true what they ay. They just want to fill up the seats. When they are showing the previews of a movie what they do is that they show the best parto or most exciting part of the movie so that people should go anhd watch it. But once people buy the ticjet and see the whole movie they start saying that it was boring or anything like that. The only thing they worry about is to get money out of peopl eno matting what people think.They know that if they show a boring movie they would not get any money out of it. And later on you just wont want to see a movie that shows interesting previews.

6. Giovanna said at June 13, 2008 11:35 am:

I myself don't watch any Asian movies, but all I can do is go by what you are saying. People are in denial if they do not think that race plays a role in the fact that a white man is the main star attraction in an asian film. Of course this is only my opinion, but I think the main reason they do this is because it will bring more attention to americans. If americans see a white man in a asian film, then they will make a connection to theirselves.

7. Ernesto said at June 21, 2008 12:53 pm:

It was a surprise that main character was a white boy. In my opinion I think that the main character should be replaced by a Asian-American boy who is not connected in anyway to his Asian culture.

8. lady said at February 24, 2010 2:23 pm:

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9. tua said at July 22, 2010 12:22 am:

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