After a kung-fu obsessed American teen (Michael Angarano) finds a long lost staff, he is transported to ancient China, where he bands together with a band of warriors in order to return the fabled staff to the imprisoned Monkey King (Jet Li), and release him from his stone prison. Directed by Rob Minkoff and Written by John Fusco, The Forbidden Kingdom is 1/3 Martial Arts film, 1/3 fantasy adventure, and 1/3 epic, and is a thrilling and exciting ride for all.

When kung-fu obssesed teen Jason (Angarano) is forced to assist teen thugs in robbing an old chinese man’s store, the old man is shot and passes on a fabled staff to Jason, and tells him to return it to its proper owner. As the thugs confront him, Jason is whisked away to distant and ancient China, where a prophecy has been foretold about a seeker who will appear and return the staff to the Monkey King, thus freeing him from his stone prison. The evil Jade warlord (Collin Chou), having tricked the Monkey King and taken control of the Forbidden Kingdom, sends out his warriors, led by the evil Witch Ni Chang (Bingbing Li), to retrieve the staff and stop Jason from fulfilling the prophecy. Joining Jason is drunken master Lu Han (Jackie Chan), who is an immortal warrior who needs Wine to power his abilities, a warrior monk (Jet Li) with close ties to the Monkey King, and beautiful Sparrow (Yifei Liu). Each has there own stake in the battle to come, and there own reasons for helping the young seeker in his journey to free the Money King and stop the evil Jade warlord.

I can honestly say I had very little expectations going into this one, the previews made it look silly and really did not do the film any justice to speak of. This film is incredibly fun, and extremely entertaining. From the opening frames of Jet Li’s Monkey King fighting on the mountain tops, to the delightfully silly drunken mastery of Jackie Chan, and the stunning beauty of Yifei Liu, the film is breathtakingly cool, and jaw droppingly gorgeous to look at. The cinematography is wonderful, and the epic scope to the film is done wonderfully. The film sucks you in to the fantasy, holds you in with its spectacle and pays it all off in spades. The film is just really well done. It felt like a lot lighter version of Crouching Tiger, only with less drama and a tad less wire work.

Of course the main draw to this movie is the inevitable team-up of Kung-fu legends Jet Li and Jackie Chan onscreen. The previews gave us hints that they fight in the film, and many people I’m sure will watch the film for that alone. If thats the case, you won’t be disappointed. Unlike a certain other film featuring two martial arts masters (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) which failed to fulfill its promise to give the fans a battle they would never forget, Forbidden Kingdom does fulfill its promise and gives fans and newcomers a thrilling sequence halfway thru the film featuring the breathtaking mastery of Jackie Chan and Jet Li going one on one like you could never have imagined. The only thing cooler than the fight between them is seeing them work side by side the rest of the film, and seeing them interact. It is very entertaining.

A thrilling fantasy adventure, and a wonderful martial arts film, The Forbidden Kingdom is a fantastic movie for anyone looking to have a good time and just enjoy a solid movie with strong storytelling. Don’t read too much into anything, as the movie does take some rather silly turns, and the more you think about it, the less you will enjoy the fun being had by the rest of us, and the actors onscreen. It’s one of those movies where you just sit back and let the movie go where it wants to, and be content to let it. Don’t fight it. It is a fantasy-adventure-epic, and so its allowed some leniency, and those willing to grant it will enjoy the film much more than those nitpicking it to death. The visual effects are done very well, and often used very subtely, and the action pieces are all extremely well choreographed and very fun to watch.

Everything from the elaborate costumes, to the intricitly designed weaponry (especially the staff), and the music all come together wonderfully and perfectly. The characters are very well defined for such a short film, and that makes the ensemble work immediately and work well. Each of them has a back story and each has something to gain by joining in the quest. The layers of all these subplots never does feel overwhelming, and only adds to the drama of the final act, as we wonder if each of them (or any) will achieve there individual goals. All the battles you will find yourself wanting to see, you get to see in this film. Everyone more or less fights everyone, and its very fun to watch. Aside from the Chan/Li fight, my second favorite is the chick fight between Sparrow and the Witch, who often uses her long hair as a weapon to deadly, and very cool affect.

Overall a fantastic escape film, and one highly recommended for anyone just looking for a fun time with a movie.