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Film / The Forbidden Kingdom

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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 guandao is smashed into the floor, and then dragged across the room. It cuts through the stone floor like butter.
    • During Sparrow's fight with Ni-Chang, Ni-Chang disarms her of her dagger and gently tosses it aside. It embeds several inches into a wood and stone pillar.
  • Action Survivor: Jason has no skills in his new martial arts world and spends first half of the story barely getting by and running away from danger. Even once he gets skilled enough to survive in fight, he still has to resort to stalling and running away when facing anyone else than Mooks.
  • Actor Allusion: Jackie Chan as the Drunken Master! Also, Jet Li as a Shaolin monk! To the uninitiated, Drunken Master was Chan's starmaking film, and The Shaolin Temple was Jet Li's.
  • 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 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.
  • All There in the Script: Ni-Chang is never referred to by name in the movie and is only called such in various official literature. Even accompanying behind-the-scenes footage calls her "White Haired Demoness".
  • 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."
  • Ascended Fanboy: Did we mention that Jason is a kung fu movie fan?
  • Bad Boss: The Jade Warlord kills one of his own men for interrupting him while selecting a concubine for the night.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Lu Yan tries to pray for rain in the middle of a desert. It seems to work... but then Yan looks up and realizes it's not exactly the kind of "rain" he was looking for, courtesy of the Silent Monk.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Pretty straightforward tale of good vs. evil, where the Jade Warlord is an Evil Overlord and our Ragtag Bunch of Misfits are on the noble quest to depose him.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The only blood you will see is Jason's cheek being cut and few slashes on the Silent Monk's torso and arms during his duel with Jade Warlord. Both instances are usedentirely for The Worf Effect, as they can't keep up with their opponents. Keep in mind that a bunch of people get their throats slashed throughout the movie, but no blood shows up anywhere.
  • 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.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: The Jade Warlord already promised the elixir to Ni Chang in exchange for finding the Monkey King's staff. However, Jason is the one who brings the staff to the warlord in exchange for the elixir, something that Ni Chang failed to do. Amused at seeing the two argue on who's right, the Jade Warlord says this trope almost word-for-word, and suggests another option: the two would fight to the death and the elixir goes to the victor.
  • But Now I Must Go: Following the Jade Warlord's defeat, Jason elects to return home to South Boston after the Jade Emperor offers him one wish to fulfill.
  • Call-Back: At the start of the film, Lupo and his Gang of Bullies mocks Jason for buying kung-fu movies and goads him to show off some kung-fu moves. Near the end of the film, Jason beats up the bullies using kung-fu, thanks to his training and experience from ancient China.
  • Can't Catch Up: Although Jason clearly becomes a better fighter, he still loses to Ni Chang due to the latter's far greater experience.
  • 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.
    • Golden Sparrow once threw her jade hairpin like a dart to demonstrate its sharp tip. In the finale, Jason uses it to stab and defeat the Jade Warlord.
  • Clothing Damage: As the Silent Monk and Jade Warlord keep fighting, monk's robe is getting more and more torn, as he barely parries the incoming blows of Warlord's guandao
  • 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.
  • Cradling Your Kill: Jason embraces the Jade Warlord when he's flung by the Monkey King right into the dart held by Jason. He then spitefully keeps him in a hug as he dies.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Ni-Chang overwhelms Jason 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.
  • 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.
  • Dirty Coward: Lupo's gang members. At the end, when Jason finally beats up Lupo in self-defense, he gives a Death Glare to the other gang members, who quickly retreats away, abandoning a defeated Lupo in the process.
  • 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 climb back up.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After Jason resurfaces in present day South Boston, Lupo, accompanied by his gang, confronts and attacks him. Thanks to the training he underwent in ancient China, Jason is able to fight back against him and sends him flying before he can gun him down, scaring the rest of the hooligans into retreating.
  • Dramatic Wind: It seems to always accompany Ni-Chang, as her hair just keeps moving in the most dramatic fashion. That, or it's a foreshadowing of them being prehensile.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: The Silent Monk pees on Lu Yan when the latter prays for rain. It's such an unexpected move from a stoic monk, but it shows that he can be goofy just like the Monkey King. Then it's revealed that the monk is actually a clone of the Monkey King.
  • Gang of Bullies: The protagonist gets harassed and almost killed by a one of those.
  • Grail in the Garbage: Jason finds the staff of the Monkey King at a pawn shop that mostly seems specializing in wuxia movie DVDs.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: During the fight in the tea house, once Lu finds out that Jason is completely useless in combat, he instead uses him as a massive mace, simply hurling and twisting him over the charging soldiers. Jason is obviously not pleased, but they have no time to argue.
  • Guyliner: Jade Soldiers in general, but their leader, the Jade Warlord, goes for eyeliner and peacock eyeshadow.
  • Hate Sink: Lupo, the hooligans' leader who serves nothing than a dirty scoundrel, ranging from coercing Jason into helping him rob Hop's shop, to the point of shooting Hop when he tried to intervene. And when Jason regains consciousness from his fall, Lupo attempts to beat him up to a pulp and shoot him down with a loaded gun, ultimately forcing a furious Jason to beat him down with his newfound skills.
  • I Lied: The Jade Warlord proposes a fist fight with the Monkey King in the prologue. This was a setup in order to trick the Monkey King into setting aside his weapon, leaving him vulnerable to petrification.
  • 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.
  • Karmic Death: The Jade Warlord dies after Jason stabs him with a jade dart owned by Golden Sparrow, whom he fatally wounded just minutes earlier.
  • Koan:
    • 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.
  • Master Swordsman: Golden Sparrow knows Kung Fu and is a master at throwing darts and Dual Wielding short-swords.
  • 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.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: Golden Sparrow racks up more kills than the rest of the group combined - but that's solely because she doesn't care and just goes straight for the kill in the first place. At least in one of the mass brawls, she kills just to make it faster.
  • Mr. Exposition: Jason is handed a long, elaborate story about the Monkey King and his eventual duel with the Jade Warlord, while they are sitting in a tea house. Rather than it being just the two characters talking, it simply shows all the events.
  • Mrs. Exposition: Golden Sparrow's Dark and Troubled Past is similarly presented as an extended flashback sequence, while she tells her story to Jason.
  • 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 Jade: It is established that jade is the only thing that can kill Taoist Immortals, Golden Sparrow having fashioned a dart out of jade with the express purpose of killing the Jade Warlord.
  • 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.
  • Never Bring a Gun to a Knife Fight: Lupo gets kicked through a wire gate before he can even draw his gun on Jason.
  • 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ni Chang is visibly shocked when Lu Yan brings out a knife to cut her hair and send her plummeting.
  • 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: The four protagonists, best explained by Ni Chang when she encounters them together.
    Ni Chang: 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 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 loves showing off Chinese landscapes.
  • Sexy Villains, Chaste Heroes: Ni-Chang, who manages to be a sexy vamp despite all her overthetopness and serves as a great foil to chaste and prim Golden Sparrow as a Dark Action Girl. Being played by Li Bingbing definitely helps, too.
  • 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 references and Actor Allusions to kung-fu films:
    • Jackie Chan's Drunken Master character as Lu Yan to 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).
    • Jason mentions Bruce Lee and his martial art "The Way of the Intercepting Fist" (jeet kune do), but Lu Yan and the Silent Monk stare at each other and back at Jason, apparently utterly confused.
  • Super Gullible: Exploited. The Jade Warlord takes advantage of the Monkey King's trustfulness and proposes a fist fight, successfully tricking him into setting aside his staff and leaving him vulnerable to petrification.
  • 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, after Jason completes her mission by killing the Jade Emperor.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: One of the film's few uses of profanity.
    Sparrow: She will kill you, witch!
    Ni Chang: Not if I kill you first, 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.
    And three weeks later, Michael Angarano could do a full split.
  • Translation by Volume: Jason attempts it, until getting called out by Lu Yan.
    [Everyone keeps talking in Chinese, including a drunk vagrant that just saved Jason]
    Jason: I. Can't. Understand. You!
    Lu Yan: That's because you are not LISTENING!
  • Translation Convention: An interesting one. Initially, all the dialogues of the locals are in Chinese. But after Lu Yan calls out Jason for simply not listening to what is being said and needlessly panicking, everything is rendered in English... as long as Jason can actually hear it. Any scenes without him present or with characters talking behind his back are back in Chinese, with subtitles provided to the audience.
  • 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.
  • The Watson: The viewpoint character is foreign so as to enable exposition about Chinese culture.
  • 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 of Dominance: The White-Haired Witch Ni Chang is Dark Action Girl who wields a whip as her primary weapon and is even able to use her own Prehensile Hair as a whip if disarmed, complementing her cold, domineering, and ruthless personality that seems to take joy in beating down her opponents, often having a taunting and smug expression in her face whenever she has the upper hand.
  • 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?: Played with. 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. The second he realises he stands no chance in a brawl, he does go for the gun, but is disarmed before he can even fully unholster it.
  • Wire Fu: Are you surprised? It's a wuxia film!
  • Would Harm a Senior: Lupo confronts the elderly Hop and robs his pawn shop, and wastes no time gunning him down after he strikes one of the hooligans with the golden staff.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Jade Warlord killed Sparrow's mother with an arrow to the back and kills Sparrow by blowing her into a wall.
  • 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!!!