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Fight scenes, humor carry Forbidden Kingdom a long way

Back in college, one of my roommates had a million dollar idea: TheFight Channel.

The Fight Channel is pretty much what it sounds like. Nothing but thefight scenes of movies all day, every day. No stories or setup, justconstant ass-beatings. I wonder what's on the Fight Channel? you'dsay, and then you'd flip over and hey! It's a fight.

It's a deceptively brilliant idea. A truly face-stomping fight canvault a movie from being kinda good to being infinitely rewatchable.Yes, the wire-fu bullet-time throwdowns are only one reason TheMatrix is so great, but if you cut all the beatings and shootingstogether, followed it up with that fight where Jason Bourne clobbersthe other assassin with a book, then switched to the Battle of Helm'sDeep, who on earth wouldn't watch that channel at least a few minutesa day?

This isn't to suggest movies can get away with being nothing more thanfight-delivery systems. But there's a place in my heart for any moviethat comes through with the beatdowns. Example: The ForbiddenKingdom, which may have a somewhat tired story, but carries theday with a great sense of humor and an endless procession ofhigh-energy brawls.

Michael Angarano loves kung fu movies, but that isn't much help when agang of street toughs forces him to break into the pawn shop where hebuys his bootlegs. In the scrum, the kindly shopkeeper is shot, butputs a golden bo staff into Angarano's hands -- which promptly teleportshim to medieval China.

Angarano quickly falls afoul of the troops of the oppressive JadeWarlord, only to be rescued by drunken master Jackie Chan. Oncethey've got a moment to catch their breath, Chan proceeds to lay out avast, sprawling prophecy: long ago, the Monkey King was turned intostone by the Jade Warlord, and only the return of his golden staff canrestore him to life and the kingdom to order.

Then, Angarano dies forever. Wait, I mean he has to get the staff inthe Monkey King's hands -- aided by Chan, the monk Jet Li, and avengingorphan Yifei Liu, and opposed at all times by the legions of troops ofthe Jade Warlord.

The Forbidden Kingdom is worth it for the fights alone. Thekung fu isn't up to Chan and Li at their prime, but it is a load offun, both in quality and quantity. Director Rob Minkoff has mostlydone kids' movies to this point (The Lion King and StuartLittle among them), making it extra confusing that he comes offhere like a poor man's Stephen Chow.

But a poor man's Stephen Chow is still pretty damn great: funny,kinetic, clearly a fan of action. Chan and Li help, no doubt,especially when the movie threatens to get too cutesy and kidsy.Those moments are rare, though; mostly, it's moving too fast to everbog down.

As far as the plot goes, it's your basic "young loser learns to kickass while saving everyone else's hides" story, only with a lot morepeople getting beaten up by staffs. Nothing too special. However,all of this is rather beside the point when the movie's tone iswinning so hard. How is it possible to include a golden shower scenethat not only doesn't disgrace everyone involved (including theaudience), but also is actually hilarious? I still have no idea. Yet,somehow Minkoff pulls it off.

When it comes to film, a good mood is infectious. The ForbiddenKingdom isn't perfect. Its story is pat and its villains arenothing special. But it's so highly enjoyable those problems justfall away, overwhelmed by all the things it does right.

Grade: B+

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