The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

(In theaters, April 2008) What a shame that the first (and probably last) on-screen pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li comes ten years too late and has to be stuck in a painfully americanized wish-fulfillment fantasy. For fans of Asian martial arts movies, this film is a thoroughly mixed bag of references and pretentious myth-making, with an American protagonist who really doesn’t belong there. Ignore the yadda-yadda about a Boston teenager magically traveling to a land of fantasy and mystical nonsense: The real worth of the film, as usual, is in the fights. The standout is obviously a battle between Li and Chan, the straightforward rigid style of the first one meeting the goofy looseness of the second: It’s a purely enjoyable ten minutes of generously uncut physical movement, far away from the annoying kid and the even more annoying mythology. As for the rest, well, it’s both good and bad: while Yifei Liu and Bingbing Li are The Hotness (white long hair, rwwwr), their characters, like everyone else, are ill-served by a threadbare plot that seldom exploits the possibilities offered by its premise. The scenery is nice. The special effects don’t add much to the story except for some shiny combat rays and hair extensions. Throughout, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the filmmakers are gosh-wowed by the elements at their disposal rather than ready to make use of them. It doesn’t help that the tone remains juvenile throughout. At least the film remains pleasant from beginning to end, offering just enough to keep everyone happy while not enough to strike any lasting impression.

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