Some pairings just make sense. Ross and Rachel? You bet. Jim and Pam? Absolutely. Danny Glover and Mel Gibson? Perfection times four. Jet Li and Jackie Chan? Yes, please.
Until this past weekend, fans of the martial arts genre had been denied that last one. With all the folks who get paid big bucks to cast films, green-light scripts and make the Hollywood world go 'round, I'll never understand why it took so long to get Li and Chan into the same movie. And, unfortunately, "The Forbidden Kingdom" might have come along too late in their respective careers to fully take advantage of the potential cool factor.
"The Forbidden Kingdom" actually shares its story style with "Dragon Wars," which I was forced to see a few months ago (one of my regular critics, let's call her "Mom," pointed out that people might not realize I don't pick the movies I see - my editor does), and that is not a good thing. By "style" I mean that the story is complex, fantastical and silly.
"Kingdom" follows an American kid (Michael Angarano) who is obsessed with kung fu movies. He is your typical loner-with-a-good-heart-underdog (see "Kid, The Karate"), and he somehow lands in ancient China after falling off a ledge in modern day Boston. It has something to do with this magical staff, which the Monkey King has been waiting almost 500 years to retrieve. There are immortals and witches and stuff, too. You kind of have to go see it - it's impossible to coherently explain the plot.
All that really matters is that our young hero winds up in the hands of two warriors: Li and Chan.
Everything else about "Kingdom" is just minutiae. This is about seeing Li and Chan together. The opening credits leave little doubt about that, as the two names appear at the same time, Chan's extending horizontally from the 'J' and Li's vertically from the same letter.
So it's no surprise that the best 10 minutes of "Kingdom" take place shortly after Li's character is introduced and he and Chan face off. The two giants of modern day martial arts films go at it - and for these precious moments nothing else matters. The convoluted story goes away. The awkward and unbelievable Angarano is not on screen. The cheesy dialogue takes a break.
The cool factor goes off the charts for the duration of their showdown.
When it is over, and they realize they are on the same side, "Kingdom" goes steadily downhill.
Li and Chan have enough charm to hold the rest of the movie afloat (barely), but that initial showdown is definitely the film's high point. The truth is that "Kingdom" is by and large a kid's movie. There's very little blood and the overall mood is cheery. The lighting is always bright and the colors vibrant. I would not have batted an eye if it had received a PG rating rather than PG-13.
In my selfish, perfect universe, this movie would have been made a decade ago when Li and Chan were still in their prime. It would have been rated R and of the 90 minutes at least half would have featured the two stars battling each other. After all these years of waiting for the two action giants to team up, it just seems a shame to put them in what are essentially supporting roles to the kid who played Young William in "Almost Famous."
It could just be me, though. The audience I saw "Kingdom" with liked it enough to give it applause as the final credits rolled.
Read Carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movies.
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