“The Forbidden Kingdom,” the first-ever pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, is a fantasy-oriented “The Karate Kid” in Wonderland. DVD release is packed with features that take viewers deep inside the kung fu rabbit hole.
Modern teenager Jason (Michael Angarano) is a Shaw Brothers fanatic who comes into possession of a legendary spear that transports him to an ancient kingdom straight out of old Hong Kong films. Mentored in the ways of kung fu by the Silent Monk (Li) and Lu Yan (Chan), Jason embarks on a quest to return the spear to its proper master, and in doing so free the imprisoned Monkey King.
Director Rob Minkoff (“Stuart Little,” “The Lion King”) describes the film as “a kung fu dream team,” and was heavily involved with the DVD package, providing commentary not just on the feature, but deleted scenes and pre-vis sequences. Featurettes focus on the pic’s female co-stars, the China-based shoot and the film’s roots in ancient mythology. Blooper reel deviates from Jackie Chan tradition by focusing on flubbed dialogue, rather than failed stunts, but entertains nonetheless.
The most interesting aspect of the package is the digital copy of the film for portable video players, which might prove to be a valuable strategy down the line as these devices become more popular.
Film straddles an awkward line between family-appropriate flick and adults-oriented martial arts epic, and high production values don’t make up for other on-screen deficits: Li and Chan’s comedic chemistry lacks the same sparks as their martial arts duels, and Angarano’s wide-eyed charm makes him a believable fish-out-of-water, but a not-so-believable kung fu master.
Yet, Woo-Ping Yuen’s fight choreography is top notch and package makes for a compelling release.