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The Forbidden Kingdom

Legendary Coupling Produces Goofy Adventure

Fans who have long awaited the pairing of legendary martial artists Jackie Chan and Jet Li may be slightly disappointed to learn that The Forbidden Kingdom focuses on the story of a Boston teenager (Michael Angarano) magically transported to ancient China and charged with saving the mythical Monkey King from the clutches of an evil warlord.

Even so, the film, which finds Chan in typically gregarious form as an immortal warrior who draws his strength from the ever-present flask of wine he gleefully sips from, contains enough fancifully choreographed footwork to satisfy even the most discerning fans of the genre.

Beyond that, the movie is more a triumph of style than substance. While it recalls, in its best moments, the visual grandeur and grace of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which clearly inspired an early sequence in which Li flies high above the clouds, punishing a small army of on-comers with his fabled staff, this Kingdom is founded on the slightest of conceits.

Following a melodramatic prologue in which Jason (Angarano) leads a gang of gun-wielding bullies to the Chinatown pawnshop presided over by Old Hop (Chan), the action begins in earnest as Jason finds himself whisked into the past for a crash course in kung-fu fighting with Lu Yan (Chan again, in younger, drunker form) and the Silent Monk, whom Li plays as a mostly stone-faced straight-laced man.

Together, Chan and Li share a brilliant physical chemistry -- their initial encounter, in an abandoned temple that doubles as the stage for the filmís most dazzling boxing match, is a breathtaking triumph of gravity-defying stuntwork. That the film spends so much time on Angaranoís training and not enough time exploring the relationship between its pair of aging masters is puzzling and frankly disappointing.

Yet The Forbidden Kingdom remains a mostly charming and involving adventure, despite an inherently silly premise and one regrettable sequence in which Li sprays Chan in the face with urine. Itís a scene presumably intended to play up Liís lighter side and lend his character a little of the goofball charisma that Chan seems to radiate so effortlessly, but it comes across as crass and unnecessary. Itís further proof that Li and Chan are at their best when letting their fists and feet do the talking. In Kingdom, they get their chance, just not often enough.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars