The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

by guest contributor Volcan Kacar

Forbidden Kingdom Poster

The Forbidden Kingdom poster

Rob Minkoff’s loosely based film on the ancient Chinese 16th century novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en is a film that takes us into South Boston, with obsessed martial arts and Chinese culture enthusiast Jason Tripitikas. Upon discovering an ancient golden staff, the chi magic sends Jason back to ancient China. His mission is to free and give back the staff to the Monkey King so he can defeat the evil Jade Warlord that has ruled the peaceful land with fear and violence.


Clumsy, martial arts fanatic, Jason Tripitikas, is played by Michael Angarano. Starring as the drunken immortal Lu Yan is no other than our favourite Drunken Master Jackie Chan and also the old pawn shop clerk, Old Hops. The silent and humble but deadly monk is portrayed by Fist of Legend Jet Li who also plays the role of the Monkey King. Cute but knife throwing-revenge-seeking Golden Sparrow, is played by Yifei Liu. The evil Jade Warlord who tricked the Monkey King and rules the land with fear, is portrayed by Collin Chou.


Jason’s entire life revolves around martial arts and his bedroom pretty much says it all. His favourite pawn shop is veritable heaven that contains all the martial arts films he could ever need and one day peeping around he discovers an ancient staff. The pawn shop clerk, Old Hop, tells Jason that many years ago a strange man left the staff to his grandfather and never returned. Upon walking home Jason is bullied and forced into leading the gang back to the pawn shop. Misleading Old Hops he opens the door only to find the gang. The burglary doesn’t go to plan and leads the gang leader, Lupo, to shoot Old Hops. Jason grabs the ancient staff and runs to the roof. Lupo demands the staff but the staff pushes Jason off the roof and the next thing he knows…he awakens in ancient China!

Having no idea what happened or even what to do, a drunken immortal, Lu Yan, saves Jason from Warlord soldiers. Then he tells him the story of the Monkey King who was tricked by the evil Jade Warlord who turned him into stone, just before he threw the golden magical staff far away…The prophecy says that, one day someone will discover the golden staff and free the Monkey King. Just then, the pair is attacked by Jade Warlord’s soldiers. Managing to barely escape with a little help from Golden Sparrow, she wishes to join Jason and Lu on their quest revealing that she has a duty to avenge her family which were murdered by the Jade Warlord.

The Warlord who discovers that the staff has been sighted, decides to send the White Haired Witch, Ni-Chang, to grab the staff in return for immortality. A white rider steals the staff from Jason and heads to a nearby abandoned, ruined temple. Lu challenges the white rider and later discovers that the white rider is the Silent Monk. The monk realizes that Jason is the person that will free the Monkey King like the prophecy had foretold and joins them in their quest. The four get en route to travel to the Five Element Mountain where the Monkey King is imprisoned in stone and aim to set him free.

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Every character in Forbidden Kingdom has a specific fighting style that is suited to their character role that is essential to the story. Jet Li plays Monkey Kung-Fu and Jackie Chan, Drunken Fist. It is amazing to see Jackie once again reprise the fighting style of Drunken Fist. It’s been thirty eight years since director Yuen Woo-ping presented Drunken Master in 1978. Seeing Jackie once again with each fluid-staggering movement really does bring back memories of watching Drunken Master for the first time! It’s nice to see that even after all these years, Jackie still does the style justice. His technique of constant, irregular, deliberate imbalance shows how he, even while intoxicated with wine, exercises high levels of skill, acrobatic balance, focus and coordination. Unpredictably lethal!

What makes The Forbidden Kingdom such a special, magical, martial arts film, is the Chinese mythology and spectacular fight sequences. The first fight sequence between the Monkey King and the Jade Warlord is visually a most breathtaking sequence! Witnessing the awesome power of Chi-magic and the intense fighting choreography was as if two titans were duking it out. Jet Li’s fighting style performance as the Monkey King is a brilliant visual of Monkey Kung-Fu also known as Monkey Fist. Jet Li gracefully emulates this style by moving his body in the manner of the monkey or ape. His style can be seen by walking on both hands and feet performing amazing acrobatic manoeuvres flipping from side to side and swinging from objects his surroundings! The attacks are targeted to the eyes, groin and throat, we even see the Monkey Claw! Even though Jet Li obviously appears as the Monkey King, with all the makeup and costume, his portrayal of Monkey Kung-Fu is clear and unquestionable! As with any fighting style based on animals, it is essential that the fighter becomes one with the animal, both physically and mentally. Li’s facial expressions and manner assuredly emphasised the demeanour – becoming of a monkey indeed! Those performances of happiness, joy, fooling around and laughing in Drunken Monkey, Stone Monkey, Lost Monkey, Stand Monkey and Wooden Monkey, weren’t for the viewer’s enjoyment alone; they were also a vital part of the technique and beautifully staged.

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The Forbidden Kingdom is an epic, rapturing tale of Chinese mythology, Chinese legends and a young man whose obsession for the martial arts takes him far back to ancient China and now, with “no Kung-Fu” his dream of becoming a Kung-Fu master becomes realised. Visually, a fascinating film, with energized fighting choreography amidst eye-opening backdrops whilst retelling a Chinese mythology story – the stuff legends are made of…!


  • Forbidden Kingdom is loosely based on the Chinese story, “Journey to the West”. It is a fictionalized story set during the Tang dynasty around a Buddhist monk Tang Sanzhuang. Many other programmes, films and animes have gained a lot of their influence from this tale, such as Dragon Ball Z. The script to the film was never completed and even during filming, changes and reworks were undertaken in the middle of shooting.

Film Rating: 7/10

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All our guest contributors share an unrivalled passion for all things martial arts; movies, books, and in some cases practising various forms too!

1 Comment
  1. Well said, sir! I loved “The Forbidden Kingdom”. Besides the obvious draw of Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s first on-screen team up, it’s a great love letter to martial arts film in general and Shaw Brothers movies in particular. The action choreography by the one and only Yuen Woo-ping is splendid, and aside from him not being a martial arts practitioner initially, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better analog of my teenage self than the character of Jason Tripitikas!

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