Thanks to the good people at CAAM (who put on SFIAAFF), I was invited to a special sneak preview of the movie that unites Jackie Chan and Jet Li for the first time ever!
It's odd enough that they've never teamed up to make a movie. Despite the contrasts in their styles, they're both huge action stars who (as this movie shows) can complement each other very well. Odder still, when they finally do unite, it's in an American movie? At least, that's what was going through my mind as I waited for the movie to start--'They're gonna Americanize this too much, they need an obligatory American hero to sell it domestically, and that's going to ruin it.' Fortunately, as the movie rolled I quickly realized that this isn't a movie that belongs to America, nor is it a movie that really belongs to China, it's a movie that belongs to the international legions of Shaw Brothers fans.
Michael Angarano nominally "stars" as Jason Tripitikas, a Boston teen obsessed with kung fu movies he gets from Old Hop's (Jackie Chan, under tons of old man makeup) pawn shop. He finds a magic staff, and when cornered by bullies it transports him to ancient China where he's suddenly a monk. He runs into Jackie Chan as (Drunken Master) Lu Yan and eventually Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu, in a variation of Pei-Pei Cheng's character from "Come Drink With Me") and the (nearly) Silent Monk (Jet Li). They join on a mission to return the staff to its rightful owner, the Monkey King (also Jet Li), imprisoned in stone by the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). Loads of crazy fighting ensues, and a good time is had by all. Even the Bride with White Hair shows up. The whole thing plays like a cross of "The Neverending Story" (geeky kid gets drawn into the world of his dreams), "Big Trouble in Little China" (white guy is helpless as Chinese kick ass around him) and a gleeful mash-up of more Shaw Brothers and Kung Fu movies than I could identify.
"The Forbidden Kingdom" opens next Friday (April 18) in theaters nationwide. Go see it!
Oh, and as for the white guy being the hero in China, if you want to get hung up on that, I suppose you can. But at least it's played with appropriate humility and humor. It's nowhere near as annoying as Tom Cruise going to Japan and becoming the greatest samurai ever in one year. What the hell was that?
[Additional Note: I forgot to mention, director Rob Minkoff, screenwriterJohn Fusco, and stars Collin Chou and Yifei Liu (making her American movie debut) were in attendance and introduced the film. However, they were really strict about anti-piracy measures (which I applaud) so I didn't risk pulling out my cellphone and trying to snap a picture of them. Still, it was cool to see the creative people behind this, and my congratulations to them]