‘The Forbidden Kingdom’ – Family-friendly martial arts fantasy on Netflix

Jackie Chan in 'The Forbidden Kingdom,' which co-stars Jet Li.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li team up for the first and only time in a feature film in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), an American take on the classic Chinese folktale “The Monkey King.”

Yes, Jackie Chan (who was 53 at the time) was no longer the youthful stunt daredevil and acrobatic dynamo and the 45-year-old Li was aging past his days as the gentle master of gymnastic precision and control. Yet when the two finally meet the result is joyous and exhilarating. Their moves are confident and natural and the action choreography by the great Yuen Woo-Ping plays to their strengths so that they feel neither old nor young. They are ageless.

Michael Angarano is the South Boston teenager and martial arts movie buff swept out of his neighborhood and into the middle of the Chinese legend. It’s a kung fu Wizard of Oz down the yellow silk road with a drunken poet and martial arts master (Jackie Chan, revisiting his famous Drunken Master character) and a silent monk (Jet Li) who become twin mentors tot his kung fu apprentice on the way to free the Monkey King (also Li, in much cheekier form) from the story’s wicked witch.

An American production with plenty of Chinese talent on both sides of the camera, it’s both a Hollywood action fantasy and a tribute to classic Hong Kong martial arts adventures. Disney veteran Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little) would not seem the natural choice – he lacks elegance and an eye for magnificent imagery – but he appreciates and embraces the conventions of the material. He has fun with the tale and Americanizes the genre without losing the pleasures of its Asian inspirations. And it doesn’t hurt to have cinematography by Oscar-winner Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

The PG-13 rating is for martial arts action and some violence but it’s pretty tame compared to most American action films and there’s nothing mean-spirited or sadistic about it.

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Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Forbidden Kingdom 2007 [Blu-ray]
The Forbidden Kingdom (Two-Disc Special Edition [DVD + Digital Copy)

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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