Film: The Forbidden Kingdom
About two-thirds of a kung-fu action fantasy film
set in ancient China with Jet Li
and Jackie Chan
and loosely based on Journey to the West
The rest of the film is about a modern-day American teenager who finds himself in ancient China after discovering the Monkey King's magical staff
. He accompanies
Jackie Chan and Jet Li
on their quest to return the staff to its rightful owner while trying to avoid the minions of the evil Jade Warlord
The writer and the director claim that they considered a story with a Chinese-American teenager being the protagonist in a "get in touch with his roots" story
, but Jackie Chan thought it would be better for the main character be a white kid
. That way, the outsider, who was obsessed with kung fu movies but did not understand the meaning and philosophy behind kung fu as a martial art
, would gain a deeper appreciation for lessons he learned along the way.
This film contains examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: The blade of the Jade Warlord's weapon is smashed into the floor, and then dragged across the room. It cuts through the stone floor like butter. Granted, this is probably a magical blade, but still.
- Action Girl: Golden Sparrow. Kung fu, throwing darts, and Dual Wielding short-swords.
- Action Survivor: Jason, obviously.
- All Just a Dream: From which Jason awakens right when he's about to be killed by the gang of evil Southies he pissed off earlier...
- Averted, it's not really a dream. He was projecting into another world. Or the past. Or something. As proven by the fact that the staff is gone.
- And That's Terrible: When our Ragtag Bunch of Misfits comes across innocent civilians hanged in the middle of a ransacked village, we get "Behold the tyranny of the warlord." Golden Sparrow even says "He must be stopped" in response.
- An Obnoxious Of Bullies The protagonist gets harassed and almost killed by a few.
- Arc Words: "Two tigers can't rule the same mountain."
- Artistic License – Geography: Apparently, the Sahara and Gobi deserts are very close by.
- Ascended Fanboy: Did we mention that Jason is a kung fu movie fan?
- Book Ends: Set in an extreme version of Hollywood Boston. Probably because they had a list of American cities with Chinatowns, and Boston is where the dart landed.
- To be fair, portions of it were actually FILMED in Boston's Chinatown district, as opposed to some soundstage or studio lot.
- Celebrity Paradox: Jason is a kung fu movie fan, but apparently does not recognise Jet Li and Jackie Chan's characters as eerily similar in appearance to the actors.
- Averted somewhat as the movies Jason watches all appear to be Bruce Lee / Shaw Brothers movies (of which this film is an homage). It's possible that Jason hasn't seen any of their movies, or they don't exist in this setting.
- Chekhov's Gun: The Monkey King's clones. Also the staff, but that got fired so early it doesn't count.
- Convection Schmonvection: Averted. The Jade Warlord's volcano is hot, hot enough to burn his robe without it having to touch the lava.
- Covers Always Lie: The dvd cover is basically the same as the poster above, with the protagonist clearly absent in both name and image.
- Dark Action Girl: Ni Chang.
- Death by Origin Story: Golden Sparrow's parents.
- Designated Girl Fight: Sparrow vs Ni Chang, just as glorious as any other fight scene in the movie.
- Despair Event Horizon: In the desert, Jason goes through a "We're not gonna make it, are we?" moment. Needless to say, the monk's pep talk makes him get over it pretty quickly.
- Grail in the Garbage: Jason finds the staff of the Monkey King at a store specializing in wuxia movie DVDs.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Ni Chang is able to shoot Lu Yan in the back from really far away and she couldn't even see him.
- Instant Expert: Averted. While Jason gets remarkably good at kung-fu, in the fight between him and Ni Chang it is blatantly obvious that he is not an expert. Also, his hair is in longer and longer ponytails during the training montage.
- Instrument of Murder: Golden Sparrow is deadly with the tuning pegs of her pipa.
- Koan: Jet Li and Jackie Chan's narration about the nature of kung fu (or perhaps lack there of), includes quotes from the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu, two classics of Taoist (Daoist) philosophy. For example "Learn the form, but seek the formless", "Hear the soundless", "Learn it all, then forget it all", "Learn The Way, then find your own way.", etc.
- Lu Yan also does the classic "you must empty your cup before I can fill it" but instead of teling Jason the story, he just tries to fill his tea cup.
- Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Subverted in the prologue, when the Jade Warlord challenges the Monkey King to a fair fight without using magic or weapons. Monkey puts aside his staff and you can guess the rest.
- Let's You and Him Fight: Jackie Chan vs Jet Li! There's a in-universe reason for it but everyone this trope is the real reason.
- Magical Asian: Both Chan and Li's characters.
- Meaningful Name: Jason Tripitikas. Jason famously went on a quest for the Golden Fleece in Greek mythology, and Tripitikas is a crashingly obvious Shout-Out to Journey to the West.
- Meta Casting: Jackie Chan is basically playing Beggar So in this movie. The student has become the teacher.
- Mighty Whitey: Largely averted. While Jason becomes very proficient in kung-fu in a seemingly short time, and is able to beat up any number of Jade Soldiers, he is significantly weaker than any of the other, more experienced named characters. Given that this is a wuxia film, this seems more like a way of elevating him to the rank of main character. Also, it should be noted that while the training montage is a short part of the movie, it is very intense (see Training from Hell below) and if you look carefully you can see Jason's hair get longer over the course of the movie indicating the passage of time.
- My Parents Are Dead: When the monk tells Golden Sparrow to go home to her mom and dad, she tells him that they're dead.
- Mythology Gag: Ni Chang interrogating some witnesses to the bar brawl and claiming that "all men are liars": Her character is a shout-out to the best known Woman Scorned in Chinese fiction.
- No-Nonsense Nemesis: Just shoot the heroes? Ni Chang does, with an arrow, from a great distance. If she had more arrows, the movie would have ended right there.
- Opposed Mentors: Jackie Chan and Jet Li literally fight over the protagonist; it's like he's just another facet for their feud. It even provides a quote, "Two tigers can't rule the same mountain."
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: "An orphan girl, a lost traveler, an old drunk, and a monk who has failed at the same task for half his life... Misfits following misfits, in the hope of rescuing a misfit."
- Replacement Love Interest: In the closing Book End. Possibly Reincarnation Romance, given the context of the main part of the story, or an Alternate Self.
- The Reveal: Two minor ones: First the Silent Monk turns out to be one of the Monkey King's clones, and then at the end Lu Yan is the old Chinese man Jason was friends with in the present.
- Rule of Cool: Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li!!!
- Scenery Porn: Mountains, valleys, forests, deserts, bamboo grove, peach tree grove... yeah, the film doesn't waste any time showing off Chinese landscape.
- Shoot the Messenger: Or stab him, and let his comrades drag him out.
- Shout-Out: Lot's of these, including:
- Drunken Master obviously.
- Golden Sparrow to Golden Swallow, the female protagonist of 1966 wuxia classic Come Drink With Me (大醉俠). Sparrow even invites her enemy to "come drink with me" in an additional tip of the hat.
- Ni Chang to 1993 wuxia film The Bride With White Hair (白发魔女传).
- Taken for Granite: The Monkey King turns into a statue early in the story. The whole point of the quest is to bring him back to life.
- Third-Person Person: Golden Sparrow. It is probably meant to signify her traumatic past, and the way she has subsumed her identity into her mission, though in the end, she does get one line in first person.
- Took a Level in Badass: The main character, by the end of the movie.
- Training from Hell: The character Jason underwent this during the movie. What you didn't know was that Michael Angarano, Jason's actor, though somewhat athletic, also did not know kung fu and had to learn it during the shooting of the movie, undergoing some Training from Hell. Some of the stuff went a little like this:
Kung Fu Master: Your legs aren't flexible enough. We need to work on your flexibility.
Michael Angarano: Okay, so does that mean I'm going to be do stretching exercises?
Kung Fu Master: No, muscles adapt quicker when they're growing anew. Two of my disciples will pull your legs so your muscles rip apart and we'll work on your flexibility as the muscles grow back. You won't be able to walk properly for the next two weeks though.
Michael Angarano: Wait, wha-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! IT HUURTS!!
And three weeks later, Michael Angarano could do a full split.
- Translator Microbes: When Jason complains that he doesn't understand ancient Chinese Lu Yan says "That's because you're not listening!"
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: This movie is the answer to the age-old question of Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li?
- Weirdness Censor: Jason is a Caucasian male in a country that, quite possibly, has yet to see a Caucasian male. The most that happens is Jet Li going "Are you sure he's the chosen one? He's not even Chinese!"
- It's also not so weird considering the various peoples that have inhabited western China (modern-day Xinjiang province) in ancient times, such as the Indo-European Tocharians and Yuezhi, as well as the ancestors of the modern Uyghurs. Depending on what time period the film is set in, the local Chinese might very well think that Jason is one of these.
- Also recall that people in that setting are used to immortals, human monkeys, and people with prehensile hair. A guy with weird-shaped eyes and pale skin probably barely even registers on the Weird Shit-O-Meter.
- Whip It Good: Ni Chang not only wields a whip as her primary weapon, but also uses her own Prehensile Hair as a whip when disarmed.
- White Male Lead: Jason is an unusual example because while White Male Leads are normally meant to attract white interest in a film with a minority-heavy cast, Jason made very few appearances in the trailer. Most of the marketing focused on Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: One of the evil Southies has a three minute long fist-fight with Jason before finally pulling the gun he was so trigger-happy with earlier. To be fair though, as far as he is concerned, Jason just fell off a roof about a minute ago. How is he to know that about a year's worth of kung fu training from Jackie Chan and Jet Li occurred between roof and ground? Guns are messy and bring the cops.
- Wire Fu: Are you surprised? It's a wuxia film!
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: Jason falls from the roof of the store with the Magical Staff of the Monkey King and is transported back to Ancient China. When he completes his quest to save the Monkey King and defeat the Jade Warlord, he is returned back to his world and continues the fall as if a second hadn't passed by without him.
- You Have Failed Me: The Jade Warlord kills a soldier for bringing him news of the staff's reappearance. Possibly because he was in the process of selecting a girl for the night.
Did we mention Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li!!!