This movie shouldn't be any good. And yet, it is.
I like a lot of wuxia movies, but a wuxia film written and directed by Americans with an American boy as the main character? Even with Jackie Chan and Jet Li in feature roles (the first time the two have been in a movie together), I was filled with doubt. A lot of doubt. But by the end of the movie, I wanted to go back and watch it again. Like the 1980s cult classic Big Trouble in Little China, The Forbidden Kingdom is less a Hollywood attempt at doing a Chinese martial arts movie and more a love letter to those movies.
Jason Tripitikas is a South Boston teenager obsessed with kung fu movies. When a group of teen thugs bully him into helping them rob a Chinatown antique store, Jason grabs a staff in the store that supposedly belonged to the legendary Monkey King and suddenly finds himself transported to ancient China. Jason meets Lu Yan (Jackie Chan, doing a riff on his Drunken Master character), Golden Sparrow (the typical "young Chinese woman seeking revenge"), and a stern, silent monk (played by Jet Li). The three of them teach Jason martial arts while they journey to Five Elements Mountain to free the Monkey King and defeat the Jade Warlord. None of this is very original, but it's not meant to be. It's a mish-mash of wuxia tropes thrown together into one big mix.
And it works. Admittedly, I found the character of Jason to be mostly annoying, but everyone else in the movie is on point. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are both spectacular. Watching them fight each other and fight together against the bad guys is a dream come true. (Reading that the two actors loved working with each other makes it even better.) The costumes, scenery, and special effects are terrific. Trying to catch all the homages and references to older wuxia movies is a treat. All in all, The Forbidden Kingdom is loads of fun. It won't change your life, but you'll be solidly entertained.