Fighting Fun

Michael Angarano steals the show from Jet Li and Jackie Chan in this silly yet enjoyable flick

While I'm not the biggest Jackie Chan fan, and I wish to heaven above that there will be no more Rush Hour movies, the man has amused me from time to time. Meanwhile, Jet Li has managed to be an impressive martial-arts presence--but he is the dullest of thespians.

That doesn't mean they can't have a blast clowning around in a silly action movie. The two actually make a decent combo in The Forbidden Kingdom, a goofy, fun adventure film that allows Chan and Li to cut loose--and show they can still throw some major punches.

Michael Angarano (so good in the recent Snow Angels) plays Jason, a Boston resident obsessed with martial-arts films and constantly getting picked on by local bullies. He frequents a pawnshop where an old wise man (Chan, in one of two roles) sells him bootleg films for cheap. He also shows Jason a special staff that miraculously transports Jason to another time. The staff is the long-lost master weapon of the Monkey King (Li, in one of two roles). Legend has it that a man will return the staff to its rightful owner--and it seems that the man is Jason.

Jason meets up with Lu Yan (Chan), a drifter who claims to be immortal and drinks wine by the gallon. This is actually a wonderful tribute to Chan's Legend of Drunken Master, probably my favorite of his films. Lu Yan gets his power from his alcohol, which results in a very unique and woozy--yet effective--fighting style. Jason and Lu Yan join forces with the Silent Monk (Li in his other role) who is also on a mission involving the staff.

I smiled with delight when it hit me that Chan was reprising his drunken-master routine. It is one of the strangest beings in martial-arts film history, a bizarre hybrid of Dudley Moore's Arthur and Bruce Lee. I want more drunken-Chan movies, and fewer Chan/Chris Tucker movies.

Add Angarano to the short list of actors (like Seann William Scott) who can kick your ass despite a humble appearance. The actor is more than credible with his fighting, and while there are moments in which a body-double is used, Angarano is no slouch with the martial arts. He's proving to be a very well-rounded performer.

Chan and Li haven't had this much fun in a long time. In fact, I can't really recall a time when I've seen Li laughing and goofing around on screen. His Monkey King bit is a real laugh-getter, and he even gets a few chuckles as the Silent Monk. As for Chan, all is forgiven for Rush Hour 3. This is his best work in many years. Chan and Li have a very memorable fight scene during which it becomes clear that the two haven't lost much in their punches and kicks.

Much of the action has a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon feel, with fighters flying through the air. If flying fighters irked you before, avoid this one. The action also has a video-game gloss, which makes it hard to take the film too seriously. The movie is best taken as fun, Saturday-matinee escapism. Kids will love it, although Chan swigging hooch all of the time might not make him the best of role models.

I'm curious to see if Angarano will try to establish himself as an action-movie hero. The 20-year-old doesn't appear to be the action-movie type, but when he flies into action, he's rather intimidating. He also has some serious acting chops to go with his physical abilities--which is more than I can say for Chan and Li.