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.
- Action Girl: Golden Sparrow knows Kung Fu and is a master at throwing darts and Dual Wielding short-swords.
- Action Survivor: Jason has no skills in his new martial arts world but gets skilled enough to survive many ordeals.
- Adaptational Wimp: The Monkey King in Chinese Mythology is a literal god who defeated all of Heaven's army which consisted of 600 thousand different deities, the 28 constellations and heavenly generals and lords SINGLEHANDEDLY. He moved across the Milk Way Galaxy and lifted it on the top of head, which in mythology is EVER EXPANDING AND INFINITE. He also wrote his and all monkeys out of the Book of Life and Death, granting him Complete Immortality and an attempt to try and convert him into an elixir by boiling him in a divine crucible, he not only survived, but when he jumped out of it was impervious to physical harm with the only means of defeating him being trickery or seals from high-ranking gods. In the film however the Monkey Kong's power appears to mainly come from his staff and only retains his ability to create clones of himself with strands of his hair. While he is physically unbeatable with the staff and capable of matching the Jade Warlord blow by blow, he never shows any of the levels of power he had in mythology. As for his immortality, it's quite possible he still did wrote his name out of the Book of Life and Death as the Jade Warlord turned him to stone rather than use an immortal-slaying weapon.
- 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.
- And the Adventure Continues: In the end, Jason returns to his place and time with all the Kung Fu training he learned in the past, to begin a life Walking the Earth as a modern Wuxia hero.Lu Yan: And so the legend is told; that the Monkey King began his journey west, in search of truth...
...while the traveler returned to his world to walk the path of the warrior and find his own truth.
As one tale ends, so another begins.
- 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?
- Blade on a Stick: The Jade Warlord wields a guandao◊ in his first battle against Sun Wukong. The next time, he wields a qinglong ji◊.
- Black-and-White Morality: Pretty straightforward tale of good vs. evil.
- Book-Ends: The beginning and end of the movie are set in an extreme version of Hollywood Boston. Since parts of the movie were actually filmed in Boston's Chinatown district it is justified.
- 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 their actors.
- Chekhov's Gun: The Monkey King's clones. It turns out that Jet Li's character is a clone all along.
- 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. For bonus points, Jackie Chan's character is the one that has the least to do with the staff, but he's the one holding it on the cover.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Jason is overwhelmed by Ni Chang in a one-sided battle for the right to the elixir of immortality. Lampshaded by the Jade Warlord, who mocks Jason:"The seeker from the prophecy. I find that quite amusing. Do you really think even for a minute, you stood a chance? I didn't think so."
- Dark Action Girl: Ni Chang, a white-haired witch with a cutthroat attitude, improbable archery skills, and a love for lashing her enemies.
- Death by Origin Story: Golden Sparrow's parents, both in the mercy of the Jade Warlord.
- Death Glare: Many throughout the movie, but the topper has to be the one Jason gives to the Jade Warlord as he kills him in revenge for the Warlord killing Sparrow.
- 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. A quick pep talk gets him through it.
- Disney Villain Death: Ni Chang plummets off a cliff after having her hair cut as she was holding on to Lu with it, trying to drag him off as well.
- Drunken Master: Jackie Chan's character, referencing one of his own series.
- Evil Gloating: Several instances, most notably the Jade Warlord before he tries to have Jason executed.
- Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: The Evil Overlord sure likes the color green.
- Fake Action Prologue: A dream about the Monkey King. A subversion of one aspect, because while it looks fake and is revealed to be a dream, those events actually did happen.
- Gang of Bullies: The protagonist gets harassed and almost killed by a few.
- Grail in the Garbage: Jason finds the staff of the Monkey King at a store specializing in wuxia movie DVDs.
- Immortal Breaker: A jade dart, which Golden Sparrow saves for the Jade Warlord. It also doubles as a hairpin.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Ni Chang is able to shoot Lu Yan in the back from miles away.
- Golden Sparrow, to some extent, as she's able to down a few mooks with her pipa's tuning pegs and could have done in the Jade Warlord if it weren't for his Force Field.
- 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.
- Jet Li and Jackie Chan's narration about the nature of kung fu 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 telling 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 the Jade Warlord quickly breaks his own promise.
- Let's You and Him Fight: Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li! There's a in-universe reason for it, but everyone knows this trope is the real reason.
- Macguffin Escort Mission: Jason has to reach the Five Elements Mountain to bring the staff of Sun Wukong back to its rightful owner.
- Magical Asian: Almost all the main Asian characters save for Golden Sparrow, who compensates with kung fu skills, years-refined aim, and an Immortal Breaker dart.
- 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 in single combat, he is significantly weaker than any of the other, more experienced named characters. Add in that he is being trained in the use of a staff in the kung fu manner, a skill that focuses highly on defense.
- 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.
- Mystical White Hair: It gets even longer whenever Ni Chang uses it as a weapon.
- 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.
- No-Sell: The Jade Warlord shrugs off every attack by the Silent Monk, including absorbing a thrust with his throat.
- 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." They agree to team up when it becomes apparent that Jason really has a long way to go.Monk: So, what about the two tigers and one mountain?
Lu Yan: We can kill each other when it's over.
- 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."
- Reality Ensues: Although Jason clearly becomes a better fighter, he still loses to Ni Chang due to the latter's greater experience.
- Replacement Goldfish: In the closing Bookend, there is a modern girl who bears a remarkable resemblance to Golden Sparrow. It may be 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.
- Ship Tease: Jason and Sparrow start to develop a clear attraction for one another. Sadly, Sparrow is killed by the Jade Warlord during the final battle. However, Jason ends up meeting a girl who bears a strong resemblance to Sparrow.
- Shoot the Messenger: Or stab him, and let his comrades drag him out.
- Shout Out: Lots of these, including:
- Simple Staff: The MacGuffin, true to the legend this movie references.
- 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.
- Teach Me How To Fight: Kung fu isn't the main reason that Jason's wandering in ancient China with a magical staff, but then again he's bound to ask for lessons given his fascination with wuxia movies.
- 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.
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: One of the film's few uses of profanity.Sparrow: You will die, witch!
Ni Chang: Not before you, orphan bitch!
- Toilet Humor: Jet Li pees on Jackie Chan from an overhead platform. It's only shown from a distance, though.
- Took a Level in Badass: The main character, by the end of the movie, is competent enough to fight mooks and street bullies.
- 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 was marketed as the answer to the age-old question of Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li. Their characters fight to a draw.
- 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!"
- 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. As can be seen above, Jason doesn't even appear on the poster. 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.
- You Will Be Beethoven: In this milieu, the wandering monk Tripitaka(Sanskrit for "Three Baskets") is actually Jason Tripitikas, a modern Caucasian with Greek ancestry.
Did we mention Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li!!!