A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, despite its seemingly endless parade of bone-crunching kung-fu battles, this Jet Li/Jackie Chan martial arts action movie is actually pretty tame. Since there's more focus on the artistry of fighting than on its gory aftermath, there's very little blood (despite the presence of knives and swords). Plus, the basic story -- in helping others, a young man discovers his own strength and will -- is pretty warm and fuzzy. There's minimal swearing and basically no sexual content; Chan's character drinks, but it's presented as a weakness. One warning: Younger viewers may need to be warned not to try the kung-fu moves at home.
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What's the story?
Shy teenager Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) might not seem like the most likely person to be fated to return a centuries-old golden staff that once belonged to the mythical Monkey King (Jet Li), who was turned to stone by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). But Jason finds himself in that very situation when an elderly shopkeeper (Jackie Chan) entrusts him with the task ... after Jason betrays the old man, who winds up getting shot. In no time, a guilt-ridden Jason is transported back to ancient China, where he meets up with two kung-fu masters -- Lu Yan (Chan again), whose elixir is wine, and the Silent Monk (Li, also in a double role) -- who must teach him how to vanquish the Jade Warlord, free the Monkey King, and go home. Is Jason up to the task?
Is it any good?
Its plotlines are circuitous to say the least, but THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is pure fun (there's a message somewhere about "learning the form but seeking the formless," but it's almost unimportant). The fighting sequences are exhilarating, especially those that pit Chan against Li. Seeing Chan in action, it's clear that the pure martial arts genre is the best showcase for his talents; in his sidekick movies, he doesn't get to unleash his prowess as extensively as he does here. Angarano also holds his own, and the villains are deliciously over-the-top, especially Li Bingbing, who plays the devious, white-maned Ni Chang.
But anyone who's expecting Kill Bill-style action will be disappointed. Though the fighting moves on display here are legit, there's little gore. Arrows cartoonishly pierce skin but don't draw blood (which is good if you plan on taking kids to see it). The film could also have done with less forced banter; the "witty" repartee isn't really all that witty. And the film's present-day bookends, though they inject Forbidden Kingdom with some semblance of a frame, are forgettable throwaways.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie depicts martial arts battles vs. other fights. What's the difference between martial arts and "regular" fighting? What makes the former an actual "art"? What message is the movie sending by presenting the martial arts sequences beautifully and casting the present-day brawls in an ugly light? Are some forms of combat more acceptable than others? Families can also discuss Jason's choices in the movie. In the end, does he redeem himself?
- In theaters: April 18, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: September 8, 2008
- Cast: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano
- Director: Rob Minkoff
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of martial arts action and some violence.
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.