From the vintage movie posters fetishized in its opening title sequence to its dream pairing of martial arts icons Jackie Chan and Jet Li, The Forbidden Kingdom is nothing if not a kung fu fanboy's wet dream. Hardcore purists may quibble that, despite the movie's obvious adulation of Hong Kong's old school, the feel here is really more Crouching Tiger glossy-revisionist than Shaw Brothers down-and-dirty — but The Forbidden Kingdom is still clearly a labor of love and pretty darned enjoyable as such.
The hero here, Jason (Michael Angarano), is very much representative of the film's target demographic (at least domestically) — a doughy white boy who worships at the altar of Bruce Lee — and the movie immediately jettisons logic and demands our total suspension of disbelief as it transports this modern misfit back to ancient China, where he's charged with returning an all-powerful staff to its rightful owner. Aiding him in this quest are a pair of kung-fu whizzes — an enigmatic monk (Li) and a wine-guzzling immortal (Chan) — and standing in the way are the minions of a particularly nasty and supernaturally endowed war lord (Collin Chou).
Jet Li and Jackie Chan both do what they do best here. Chan, looking vaguely ludicrous under a wig of long dreadlocks, mugs and mixes goofy humor with impressive physical agility, while Li is all Zen-like calm and precision, even when fighting, a cool-as-ice presence that's only marginally less effective when he opens his mouth to speak. (The movie, being mostly in English, puts its mostly non-English-speaking cast at an unfortunate disadvantage.) Despite the story's cheesy premise, this is a surprisingly cohesive and visually classy production (albeit one that's a little too dependent on digital trickery for its adrenaline rushes), with much that should satisfy both Hong Kong cinema devotees and newbies.
The Forbidden Kingdom (PG-13) Stars Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Bingbing Li and Yifei Liu. Opens April 18 at local theaters. 3.5 stars