Gong Fu Zhi Wang / The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) - An entertaining modern fantasy movie but no great homage to Hongkong's martial arts cinema - 7/10 (08/09/13)
Just like the main character in this film, I am a big fan of martial arts cinema and have grown up with it. One of the genre's first milestones "Five Fingers Of Death" (1972), Bruce Lee's "Fist Of Fury" (1972), The Taiwanese "The Master And The Kid" (1978), the visually stunning "Shaolin Handlock" (1978), the brutal "The Master Strikes" (1980), the humorous "Mad Mission" (1984), the magical "A Chinese Ghost Story" (1987), the epic "Once Upon A Time In China" (1991), Jackie Chan's "Who Am I?" (1998) and recently the touching "Fearless" (2006) and the ambitious "Red Cliff" (2008) are the movies I would cite as my favourite ones of the genre.
Many martial arts fans have been dreaming about a cinematic fight between Jackie Chan and Jet Li. This movie finally fulfils this dream. While their fight is entertaining in this film, I was expecting something more spectacular and I guess many fans think alike.
What about the rest? Well, this movie is a strange mixture of a Hollywood teenie movie where a young guy who gets bullied by a gang that switches into a traditional Chinese adventure flick with many martial arts passages and a few elements of Chinese mythology where the young guy has to fulfil a prophecy in ancient China.
I must admit that this mixture pretends to be original but it really didn't at all for me. A young white American who is wandering around in ancient China just feels weird. The fact that everybody seems to be able to speak English with him over there after a while is just as strange. What even disturbs me more are the numerous modern special effects in this movie that don't fit with the more traditional costumes, fights and landscapes. The mixture of an ancient and a contemporary world just doesn't fit in here. From that point of view, it's comparable to the failed experiment of the remake of "A Chinese Ghost Story" (2011). A movie where this mixture really works well is "The Neverending Story" (1984) but this movie here is not at all close to this kind of quality.
There were a few more things I didn't like that much like the Monkey King that I just found plain stupid. On the other side, the villains incarnated by Li Bingbing and Collin Chou are much more addicting and pleased me a lot.
Towards the middle of the movie, I was afraid that the film would turn into some sort of romantic story but it ultimately didn't. There is some romantic tension between two characters but it never goes further and would distract from the main story. I felt that this element was just addicting, charming and very well played. One feels that this relation is fresh and hesitating but mature and far beyond simple sexual tension.
In addition to this element, the movie doesn't exaggerate towards the entertaining and gripping ending that I liked a lot. It's not as if the ending was a complete happy end or as if the young American teenager would beat up all Chinese warlords, soldiers and monks on his own. Jackie Chan, Jet Li and the charming Yifei Liu get almost as much screen time as Michael Angarano which makes this movie feel balanced enough.
In the end, this movie is quite entertaining and worth a watch. It features some of the best actors of traditional Hongkong cinema like Jackie Chan and Jet Li that have become worldwide legends for a good reason. It also features some promising actors of China's younger generation like Li Bingbing or Yifei Liu. These two women don't only act very well, they are also incredibly beautiful and way more natural than the vast majority of young Hollywood actresses. The gripping ending was magical and filled with great fighting scenes as well. On the negative side, the mixture of genres doesn't really fit, the special effects are annoying and the story and acting sometimes lacks depth.
If you feel for a modern fantasy movie with a few martial arts sequences and many famous actors, go for it. If you expect a breathtaking homage to old Hongkong cinema with a profound story, don't watch this because you will be disappointed.« Sien Nüi Yau Wan / A Chinese Ghost Story (2011) - A milestone of Hongkong cinema goes Twilight - 6/10 (07/09/13)Activator reviews »
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