Monday, April 21, 2008

Not if I Kill You First, Orphan Bitch!

I sat through the closing credits of Rob Minkoff's The Forbidden Kingdom in a state of amazement that so many people in at least five different countries combined forces to midwife this stinking heap of dogshit into the world. Who gave these guys so much money? It seems as if a little dust had settled on the junkheap of pop culture history, and so they decided to toss another on. I mean, I would say that this movie must have been written by a brain-damaged donkey with too much of a fondness for crème de menthe, but I have more respect for donkeys--Grasshopper-addled or not--than to make that statement. It was so bad that I imbd-ed to make sure it wasn't a vanity project. Minkoff is apparently responsible for The Lion King, and the writer John Fusco is the man who brought you such gems as Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Loch Ness which I'm sure we all remember fondly. Okay, okay, he also wrote Young Guns and Thunderheart both of which films are not entirely awful. These guys are perfectly respectable laborers in the more commercial, more lowest-common-denominator mines of Hollywood. Bad work, maybe, but Hollywood-standard bad, not insultingly, monumentally, jaw-droppingly bad. How could they have made this film, this movie that stars both Jackie Chan and Jet Li so intensely bad? So bad indeed, that Chan, not exactly known for his great range as an actor, was quoted as saying that the script was nonsense, that he did it mostly for the experience of being in a film with Jet Li.

It's bad because it's a kung fu film strapped into a rejected little-boy's-fantasy-comes-to-life movie from the 80s, like The Last Starfighter or Cloak and Dagger. Cloak and Dagger had Dabney Coleman in dual roles, much like both Chan and Li in this film, but I gotta say, they just don't have the panache that old Dabney had. Scrolling down to the very bottom of John Fusco's list of accomplishments, we see that he wrote a little thing called Crossroads. Crossroads was a movie about a geeky East Coast white teenager (affably played by Ralph Macchio, who reprised this role in The Karate Kid) who is guided through the Land of the Blues by a Magical Negro (wonderfully played by Joe Seneca, who was replaced by Pat Morita as a Magical Nip in The Karate Kid). This movie is about a geeky East Coast teenager (played with slack-jawed ineptitude by some teenaged schlub called Michael Angarano) who is transported into a weakly-imagined fantasy China, guided by a duo of Magical Chinamen. These super-powered people that happen to not be white are in both films dee-lighted to help the white kid out in his hero quest, and happily step aside when it comes time for folk of European descent to shine. The big difference between the two films is that Walter Hill was a director with a knack for turning what could have been utter schlock into cinema with weight and power. Mr. Minkoff directed Stuart Little.

Mr. Chan and Mr. Li are awesome when they're fighting, and at they're best when they are brutalizing and humiliating their young student during the inevitable training sequences, with what I hope seems to be real relish. Chan moves with a sturdy grace that's amazing for a 54 year-old man, and Jet Li is his usual balletic bad self. As actors, well you know. Li is at his best looking determined and noble, and when he strays from this things can get a little hinky. His performance as the Monkey King is really annoying and giggly, but it seems that that's how Sun Wu Kung is usually portrayed. Jackie Chan is just being himself, you know, charming and one note, this time wearing an awesome wig. The plot is horseshit, and really really badly written. Angarano's character has a line during one of the training sequences where he blurts, "And you're just sitting there on that horse like the King of England!" at Mr. Chan. Not only has no contemporary teenager ever lived during the reign of a King of England, no one of any age would ever have used such a shitty simile. Why is a guy on a horse anything like the King of England? Golden Sparrow, the young lad's love interest (gamely played--against unspeakable odds-- by Liu Yifei), for no good reason whatsoever talks about herself in the third person for the whole goddamned movie. Mr. Chan, Mr. Li, and the rest of the characters who interact with Agarano's character inexplicably switch between Mandarin and English. Now people, I know the plot wouldn't have worked if nobody could speak to the fucking kid, he's the main character and all, but really, you could have made a joke about it at least, I mean gone a little metafilmic with it. Or not. You could have him drink a magic potion. Or that people with Kung Fu superpowers automatically have like a universal translator that gives them crash courses in language, like a super-Berlitz. Whatever. They don't do shit. The movie is a clinker, and not worth the time I've spent writing about it. But Jackie Chan and Jet Li have a great fight scene or two. Watch for it on YouTube.

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