The Forbidden Kingdom

The misleading advertising sells Jet Li and Jackie Chan headlining a movie together at last. This is an easier pitch than admitting the main star is the lesser-known Michael Angarano, playing Jason, an American teenager whisked into ancient China where he’s mentored by Li and Chan. But confronting it openly reveals its charm. The Forbidden Kingdom is the sort of ’80s kids’ movie that built an audience through frequent cable airings. Its base appeal---a loser kid gets to have an adventure where he’s side-by-side with heroes and the girl of his dreams---doesn’t spell classic and it doesn’t intend to. The joyful mash-up that writer John Frusco concocts blends surface-level martial arts comedy with the underlying epic mysticism of Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower. Not everything runs this smoothly. There’s a sense of Western supremacy in the way Jason’s Asiaphilia becomes a stepping-stone to self-improvement. Back home, the world’s most stereotypical Italian greaser bullies him. By absorbing his Chinese fetish superpowers, he’s able to fight the Italian and go on living as a more dignified American kid. It’s culture clash, with cultures only understood through movie fantasy about them. That’s where The Forbidden Kingdom is both dangerously ignorant and agreeably goofy.