Lucy’s been over for the past few days, so we’ve been around London playing our famous (it’s not, but it should be) Tube game: pick a random station with your eyes closed from the index, and then go there. Simple! This time the hand of fate directed us to Finchley Road & Frognal and East Putney, and on our travels we made two important discovered. One: Stiles Bakery near Angel station in Islington – don’t ask how we ended up there – does the most delicious milkshakes in the world. And two: The Forbidden Kingdom is the funniest film ever made. We spent the last 20 minutes or so literally in fits of barely-suppressed laughter at the terrible acting and hilarious clichés. Realising that no-one is going to read this blog and then go out and see the film just for it to make sense, I thought I’d perform a public service and provide a commentary to the plot as recounted on Wikipedia. Naturally, if you are planning to see it (why?) don’t read this. All right then, here we go…
“The film opens during a battle between Sun Wukong, the Monkey King (Jet Li), and heavenly soldiers amongst the clouds. It is then revealed the sequence was a dream when a young teenager, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), awakens in his room plastered with vintage kung fu movie posters. Michael Angarano is an actor who posses a single facial expression: whimpering distress. Every event in his life is met with it, including the discovery that he’s had a dream. After getting dressed, he makes his way to a pawn shop in South Boston’s China town to buy some new kung fu DVDs. This semi-derelict run-down pawn shop happens to stock brand new shrink-wrapped DVDs. Obvious, its customers were both very desperate and working in the entertainment industry. Like the makers of this film. There, he converses with Hop (a prosthetics-laden Jackie Chan), the shop’s elderly owner, and, while thumbing through some DVDs, he is drawn to a room full of antiques and notices a golden staff. Hop tells him that the staff is to be delivered to its rightful owner and then closes the door. As the door closes, slowly, we see Jason’s face enter its usual whimpering distress state.
On his way back home, Jason is attacked by local bully Lupo (Morgan Benoit) and his cronies who force him to take them to the store so they can steal some money from the old man. Several things here. First of all, the cronies of the local bully – and there are four of them – are content to spend their lives standing in a line behind their leader grimacing silently. Secondly, Lupo’s first move of bullying is to denigrate Jason’s bicycle as being a ‘loser cruiser’, which immediately becomes my favourite phrase ever for its sheer wickedness, had Lupo and Jason been seven years old. And finally, it should be noted that it manages to get very dark inbetween these scenes: obviously the boys went for a pizza with their victim off-screen to pad out the time. Feeling betrayed, Hop tries to attack the thieves with the staff, but is shot by Lupo (much to both Jason and Lupo’s cronies’ shock). And, ur, Lupo’s. Immediately after shooting, he starts babbling in a surprised tone and was clearly unaware that guns contain bullets. He tells Jason that he must deliver the staff to its rightful owner. Jason takes the staff and runs from the thieves. On top of a building, he is surrounded by the bullies, with Lupo warning Jason that he “saw nothing” (out of fear Jason may turn them in to police). Before Lupo can shoot Jason, he is suddenly pulled off the roof by the staff and travels back through time. Make a mental note of this moment: Jason is pulled off the roof of a building and falls – on his back – down to the concrete ground below. We’ll come back to this.
When Jason wakes up he has been transported back to ancient China, dressed in old-century clothing. There he is attacked by Jade Warriors who try to take the staff from him. They don’t understand his speech, and likewise he doesn’t understand theirs. He is helped by the Drunken Immortal, travelling scholar Lu Yan (Jackie Chan). All language issues between all characters have now been resolved. Later that night, seated in a teahouse, Lu tells Jason a story of how the Monkey King caused havoc at the banquet on the Five Elements Mountain celebrating the Jade Emperor’s forthcoming 500 year period of meditation and drank of the elixir of immortality. The Emperor took a liking to the Monkey King and decided to award him a heavenly title, much to the chagrin of the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou), a heavenly general. The Emperor then left the Jade Warlord in charge of heaven before retreating to his period of seclusion. The Jade Warlord later challenged the Monkey King to a duel, and turned him into stone by tricking the Monkey King to set aside his magic staff, Ruyi Jingu Bang. But before he was fully immobilised, the Monkey King cast his staff into the mundane world. Lu Yan ends the tale by stating a person known as the “Seeker” will be the person to find the staff and free the Monkey King. Phew. Also, for some reason, freeing the Monkey King will cause the Emperor to return too.
Lu Yan and Jason then get into a fight with the Jade Warriors who track them to the restaurant and are saved by a mysterious young woman, who turns out to be the Orphaned Warrior, Golden Sparrow (Liu Yi Fei). It also turns out that she delivers lines as if she’s an automated customer service agent. Sparrow’s family was killed by the Jade Warlord, and she has vowed vengeance against him. Which is fascinating, because in the flashback scene we see Sparrow hiding down a well as the Warlord personally – personally! – comes and shoots her mother. So how does she know it was him, eh? Did the well contain an emergency periscope?
The Jade Warlord is notified by his men that they have seen the magical staff. He kills one of them for bringing him bad news, which is a really bad employment practice. The Jade Warlord then sends his bounty hunter, the white-haired witch Ni Chang (Li Bingbing), to retrieve it for him. When Jason wakes up in the morning on his own in the middle of a wood he is attacked by a person dressed in white clothes, who takes the staff away. Jason, Lu Yan, and Sparrow the others having re-appeared again follow the trail of the mysterious man. They reach a temple where the man is meditating. There, Lu Yan and the man, the Silent Monk (Jet Li), fight for the staff. I guess this is the bit that kung fu fans enjoy. I was just expecting the mysterious monk to reveal a Free Tibet placard at any moment, given that this is Hollywood. The Silent Monk later learns that the staff is meant for the traveller. The four head towards the Five Elements Mountain in a quest to free the Monkey King and end the reign of the Jade Warlord.
On the way to the Mountain, Lu Yan and the Silent Monk teach Jason kung fu. After crossing a great desert in a scene which begins with a line along the lines of “boy, this desert is hot”, just as an indication of this film’s sense of subtlety, they are attacked by Ni Chang and the Jade Warriors, but the four escape on their horses with the staff intact. Ni Chang fires an arrow after them, and Lu Yan is hit and falls from his horse. They take refuge in a monastery where they find out that only the Jade Warlord’s elixir of immortality will heal Lu Yan. Jason, desperate to help Lu Yan, heads toward the palace with the staff to exchange it for the elixir. You can tell the betrayal is difficult for him, because he’s wearing a look of whimpering distress on his face. Once at the palace he learns that the elixir was promised to Ni Chang if she brought back the staff, but since Jason brought it he has to fight Ni Chang to the death, the winner getting the elixir. I’ll tell you something: if I had an elixir of life, I’d keep it in more than one jug. The Silent Monk discovers that Jason has left with the staff and pursues Jason along with Sparrow. We’re not shown how they manage to do this, which is handy because there was a fearsome army inbewteen them and it a few scenes back. Back at the palace, Jason and Ni Chang fight. Though Jason had developed a good measure of skill in the martial arts and holds his own, the more experienced Ni Chang easily defeats him. But before she can kill him, the Jade Warlord orders her to stop and, instead, sets his own men on Jason. The boy’s life is once again saved when the Silent Monk and Sparrow arrive (with Lu Yan in the rear being carried by monks from the monastery who join in the fight with the Jade Army) and intervene. Oh, sorry, yes. The pacifist monks help fight the army.
The Silent Monk duels the Jade Warlord while Sparrow fights Ni Chang. During the fight, Jason manages to grab hold of the elixir and throw it to Lu Yan, who drinks it and becomes immortal, regaining his strength and energy. The audience waits with baited breath to see if the film will become immortal too. Lu Yan then fights Ni Chang on the balcony. The Silent Monk is mortally wounded during his battle with the Jade Warlord and throws the staff to Jason. Cue for: extreme whimpering distress. Jason takes the staff and shatters the Monkey King’s statue form, freeing him from his imprisoned state. The Silent Monk dies of his injuries and reverts into a golden hair, revealing him to be a magical human familiar created by the Monkey King prior to his imprisonment. The fight between the Monkey King and the Jade Warlord commences. Sparrow tries to kill the Jade Warlord with a mystical jade dart, but is countered by chi. After a long battle, Lu Yan dispatches Ni Chang by sending her off the palace balcony and Jason is able to kill the Jade Warlord with the dart and dropping him into a pit of lava. His decent into the pit of lava takes a considerable length of time, and he waves his arms about with considerable pizazz as he does so. Jason reaches Sparrow, who thanks him before dying. Even more whimpering distress. He is then praised by the Jade Emperor for fulfilling the people’s prophecy. As his reward for his bravery, Jason chooses to be transported back home to modern day Boston. Out of anything in the world that a benevolent magical Emperor could provide, Jason opts to return to his awful life where by rights he should be dead. Oh, the cruel curse of low expectations. Why not ‘I want to go back home and have a better bike’? But alas.
When Jason wakes up, he is lying flat on the ground below the building he supposedly fell from and is attacked by Lupo’s gang, but this time he uses his newfound kung fu skills, fights back, and defeats Lupo single-handedly. Here we go: Lupo’s gang aren’t in the least surprised that a boy they watched fall backwards onto concrete isn’t just alive, but up and about too. Also, after kung fu manages to defeat the leader of five armed men, the four cronies jump backwards with a deft synchronicity which screams ‘cast me in a musical!’. Hop manages to survive the gunshot (the medics stated that the bullet missed his heart), and is taken to the hospital, but not before stating he is immortal and thanking Jason for completing his mission. Robotic medics stand by and watch safe in the knowledge that the elderly man suffering a gunshot wound will be fine. Despite the fact they clearly haven’t examined him, because said gunshot wound is still covered by clothing. Before Jason leaves the scene, he sees a girl who looks like Sparrow. She congratulates him for his bravery and tells him she will see him later. She then goes into her store (the Golden Sparrow). Jason, surprised but delighted to see her, leaves and goes home, where he practises his kung fu on the roof with a staff. I believe the exact ending is “See you around sometime?” and then – with perfect cheesiness – “Definitely!”. But the whimpering distress has finally vanished, to be fair. And that’s it: The End. Please please please: no sequels.“