My mum netflixed Forbidden Kingdom, and we watched it tonight. It had Jackie Chan and Jet Li, which was enough for me! Except that, in the end, it wasn’t.
The premise: a generic guy from our world who loves kung fu movies gets transported to a Magic China (no resemblance to the real China) because he is the chosen keeper of the Monkey King’s staff, and he must return it to its rightful owner.
Maybe I’ve just watched too many movies, but mediocre films are painfully predictable nowadays. A drunk guy rides up just as White Guy (our hero, whose name I can’t remember) is about to be kidnapped? Clearly, Drunk Guy is a kung fu master! And lo and behold, he rescues White Guy. Sparrow (The Girl, and the only one whose name is used with enough regularity for anyone in our family to remember), she’s seeking vengeance for the terrible destruction of her town? Clearly, White Guy will slay her enemy for her! Drunk Guy (who becomes White Guy’s teacher, along with The Monk) gets hit with an arrow right next to the Big Bad’s castle, where there’s an immortality elixir? Clearly, White Guy is going to disregard everyone’s advice and risk the fate of the entire country by running off to get the elixir for his friend. His big confrontation isn’t going so well? Clearly, Monk and Sparrow are going to come running in to save him at the last second!
And so on. I found myself getting very impatient with the fight scenes, wishing they’d just get them over with already. They were mostly really boring, which surprised me– usually there’s nothing I enjoy more than a kung-fu action scene, the more drawn-out and ridiculous, the better. But this time around, I was shouting snarky predictions and playing with my dog.
It also fell into a number of annoying cliches. White Guy was the only white guy in the whole movie (cool!) but he also was able to save a country that had desperately been trying to save itself for 500 years. He never surpasses his masters in kung fu, at least, but that just makes it more annoying that he gets the ultimate victory.
Also, although the Evil Witch gets to fight men at two points– kicking White Guy’s ass, and ultimately losing to Drunk Guy– Sparrow (The Girl) never gets to fight anyone but the Evil Witch. She confronts the Big Bad, but she does so by saying, “Hey! Over here! It’s me, the youngest daughter of that man you killed! I am here for revenge! Wait a second while I take my jade dart out of my hair, swish my luxurious locks around, and–gack!” (Big Bad kills her.)
White Guy rushes to her side (taking an agonizingly long time before picking up the jade dart, the only thing that can defeat the Big Bad) and then rushes off to kill the Big Bad for her (by snaking up behind him, and waiting for the Monk to send him flying right into the dart), then rushes back to Sparrow’s side to hold her while she chokes out “I thank you” and died. This is particularly “touching,” since up til this point she has spoken entirely in the third person (like Suede from Project Runway, and about as annoying.) This is when I called it that she’d mysteriously appear in the Real World, and mysteriously be infatuated with White Guy. It took another half hour, but I was right.
Speaking of Sparrow: she and the witch exchanged two lines of dialogue.
Sparrow: She should have killed you, witch!
Witch: Not if I kill you first, orphan bitch!
Would you consider this to be passing the Bechdel test? I think it follows the letter but not the spirit of the law. Especially since the Witch was even less developed as a character than Sparrow; Sparrow at least had your typical revenge plot, but the Witch just wanted to become immortal. No explanation of where the Witch came from or why her hair was white or anything– just that she was working with the Big Bad to get a sip of that elixir.
A note on the elixir: the narration explicitly stated that only a sip was needed to make a person immortal, and yet when Drunk Guy eventually got the bottle (also an easily-predictable act, though the process of throwing and bouncing it across the room to him was a lot of fun) he just guzzled down the entire thing. There was enough to make everyone in the movie immortal twice over, but the just drank it all. If he’d been less greedy, Monk and Sparrow both could have lived! (Well, maybe not the Monk, since in one of the other few cool things the movie did, it turned out that he was one of the Monkey King’s transformed hairs.)
There were fun things about this movie– as I said, the twist about the Monkey King’s hair (which makes sense, since in the beginning of the movie her turned one of his hairs into an automaton to fight the Big Bad). Actually, everything about the Monkey King was pretty endearing– he was very silly, and there was this great sequence where he made his magic staff fight on its own.
However, overall, I’d say you should just go watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon instead. The fights in Forbidden Kingdom were lackluster, the costumes over-the-top (the Big Bad wore gobs of blue eyeshadow; made me think I was back in junior high), the plot thin, and the execution shoddy. All I wanted was some fun kick-assery, but it couldn’t hold my interest.