tek's rating: ½

The Forbidden Kingdom (PG-13)
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So there's this kid named Jason who is really into martial arts movies and stuff like that. He spends a lot of time in this little shop run by an old Chinese guy called Hop, where he buys bootleg DVDs. One day he finds a bo staff there, which has been waiting to be returned to its rightful owner since Hop's grandfather opened the store like a hundred years ago. Later, there are some bullies picking on Jason, and when they find out he's friends with Hop, they force him to help them gain entry to the shop so they can rob it. In the process, one of them shoots Hop, and then Jason grabs the staff and starts running.

He eventually gets up to a rooftop, and then... falls. And instead of landing on the pavement below, he wakes up in ancient China. And at first no one seems to understand him, and certainly he doesn't understand anyone. But some soldiers confront him and want to take the staff, but a drunken master named Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) happens by, and rescues Jason. And at first Jason doesn't understand him, but then he does, and the whole language barrier thing doesn't crop up again throughout the movie at all. Later, at a tea shop, Lu Yan tells him the legend about how the staff belonged to the Monkey King, and there was this immortal Jade Emperor who I guess shows up once every 500 years, and meanwhile leaves the land in the hands of the Jade Warlord (who is also immortal)... who doesn't like the Monkey King (even though the Emperor did). So there was this battle between the Warlord and the Monkey King. The Warlord managed to trick the Monkey King and turn him to stone, but not before the Monkey King flung the staff somewhere far away, so the Warlord couldn't get it. And now there's like a prophecy about a seeker who will return the staff to the Monkey King and break the spell.

Well, Jason and Lu Yan begin traveling together toward the Jade Warlord's palace on the Five Elements Mountain. They're soon joined by a girl called Golden Sparrow, who intends to kill the Jade Warlord for having killed her parents years ago. She's pretty good at throwing darts or whatever. And she plays the pipa. And she refers to herself in the third person (with pronouns, mind you; I mean, she says "she" or "her," she doesn't call herself by name, so it's less annoying than most people talking in the third person). Anyway, Not too long after they meet her, they also meet a monk, who apparently didn't have a name, that I ever heard. But at first he stole the staff, and that led to a totally epic battle between him and Lu Yan. Oh, and btw, the monk is played by Jet Li. So that's pretty much the movie's main drawing point: martial arts fans getting to see Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li. Did I mention it was epic? Of course, after a long fight during which the monk doesn't talk at all, Lu Yan finally accuses him of working for the Warlord, so the monk finally speaks to deny it. (The whole fight obviously could have been avoided if this had happened in the first place, but then there'd be no point in the movie.) So anyway, the monk begins traveling with them. And both Lu Yan and the monk train Jason (in fact they fight over who gets to train him).

I'm really not sure how long all this takes, but probably longer than it seems, because Jason does improve quite a bit as a fighter. Obviously he doesn't get as good as his masters, but at least he's good enough to fight the mooks in the Jade Army. However, the army isn't the main problem. The Warlord has sent a witch named Ni-Chang after them. She commands some soldiers, but she herself is far more dangerous than any of them. Totally a match for any of Jason's companions, and certainly better than Jason.

Okay, anyway, I'm leaving tons of stuff out. Eventually they all get to the palace and have to fight not just a bunch of soldiers and Ni-Chang, but the Jade Warlord himself. So there are lots of wicked cool battles throughout the movie, and a lot of the kind of impossible jumping around that people tend to do in wuxia movies. And um... also the movie's score is really awesome. And there's some reasonably good humor, as well as drama. And some surprises. And the actual story's not that bad. It's loosely based on the Chinese literary classic "Journey to the West," which is something I suppose I've seen loosely adapted before, and surely will again. Because it's a classic, and so it gets adapted a lot. Anyway, the movie's not great, but... it does have a lot of good points.

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