The Forbidden Kingdom (: Kung Fu King; working: The J & J Project) is a 2008 American martial arts action adventure film from Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company. Written by John Fusco and directed by Rob Minkoff, it is the first film to star together two of the best-known names in the martial arts film genre, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The action sequences were choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping.
The film is distributed in the United States through Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company, and through The Huayi Brothers Film & Taihe Investment Company in China. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the USA and Hong Kong on 26 September 2008 and in the United Kingdom on 1 October 2008.
South Boston teenager Jason Tripitikas is a fan of martial arts films and he awakens from a dream of a battle between the Monkey King and celestial soldiers in the clouds. He visits a pawn shop in Chinatown to buy Wuxia DVDs and discovers a golden staff. On his way home, Jason is harassed by some hooligans, who attempt to use him to help them rob the shop-owner Hop. Hop tries to fight the thieves with the staff, but is shot and wounded. He tells Jason to deliver the staff to its rightful owner and Jason flees with the staff. He is cornered on the rooftop by the hooligans and almost shot too, but he is pulled off the roof by the staff and falls backwards onto the asphalt.
When Jason regains consciousness, he finds himself in a village in ancient China that is under attack by armored soldiers. The soldiers see his staff and attempt to seize it. He is saved by the inebriated traveling scholar Lu Yan, a supposed "immortal," who remains alert and agile even when drunk. Lu brings Jason to a teahouse and tells him the story of the rivalry between the Monkey King and the Jade Warlord. The Jade Warlord tricked the Monkey King into setting aside his magic staff Ruyi Jingu Bang and transformed him into a stone statue, but the Monkey King cast his staff far away before the transformation. Being an immortal, the Monkey King did not die, but got captured inside the statue. Lu ends the tale with a prophecy about someone, a "Seeker", who will find the staff and free the Monkey King. Just then, they are attacked by the Jade Warlord's men again but manage to escape with the help of Golden Sparrow, a young girl who refers to herself in the third person. She reveals that her family was murdered by the Jade Warlord, against whom she has therefore sworn revenge.
Meanwhile, the Jade Warlord, upon learning that the staff has been sighted, sends the White-Haired Witch Ni-Chang to help him retrieve it in exchange for the elixir of immortality. Jason, Lu Yan and Golden Sparrow meet a strange man dressed in white, who takes the staff away from them. Lu Yan fights with the man (later revealed to be the Silent Monk) for the staff until the latter realizes that Jason is the prophesied Seeker, and he joins them in their quest to free the Monkey King. As the four travel to Five Elements Mountain, Lu Yan and the Silent Monk teach Jason Kungfu along the way. After crossing a desert, they encounter Ni-Chang and her henchmen and a battle ensues, in which Lu Yan is mortally wounded by Ni-Chang's arrow. The protagonists take refuge in a monastery, where they learn that Lu is actually not an immortal, and only the Jade Warlord's elixir can save his life. In desperation, Jason goes to the Warlord's palace alone to exchange the staff for the elixir.
In the palace, the Jade Warlord asks Jason to fight with Ni-Chang to the death, because he had promised to give the elixir to only one of them. Jason is defeated by Ni-Chang and the Warlord taunts him for his foolishness, and is about to decapitate him when the other protagonists and monks from the monastery arrive to join in the battle. Jason manages to grab the elixir and he tosses it to Lu Yan, who drinks it and recovers. The Silent Monk is wounded by the Jade Warlord during the fight and he passes the staff to Jason, who uses it to smash the Monkey King's statue. The Monkey King is freed and the Silent Monk is revealed to be actually one of the Monkey's clones. Lu Yan battles Ni-Chang and kills her by throwing her off the cliff hundreds of feet below. After another long battle between the Monkey King and the Jade Warlord, the Warlord is eventually stabbed by Jason and falls into a lava pit to his death. However, Golden Sparrow has been seriously injured by the Warlord and she dies in Jason's arms, thanking him in the first person before dying. By then, the Jade Emperor has returned from his meditation and he praises Jason for fulfilling the prophecy before allowing him to return home.
Jason finds himself back in 21st century Boston after passing through a magical portal at the exact moment and location of his earlier fall. He defeats the hooligans easily and drives them away. He alerts the police and calls an ambulance for Hop, who survives from the gunshot wound and secretly reveals to Jason that he is immortal (hinting that he is actually Lu Yan; A fact which also would have been hinted by the name of the pawn shop as seen in the beginning: "Lu Yan's Pawn Shop"). Before the film ends, Jason is delighted to see a girl who resembles Golden Sparrow and speaks to her briefly, before she heads back to her shop, called "Golden Sparrow Chinese Merchandise".
While the character Sun Wukong came from Wu Cheng'en's famous classical novel Journey to the West, in an interview with Screen Power magazine, actor Collin Chou denied that the plotline would be related to the novel. The details of the plot were devised by screenwriter John Fusco along with actor Jet Li. Li explains,
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In a behind the scenes article he wrote for Kung Fu Magazine, screenwriter John Fusco also stated he derived the surname for the Jason Tripitikas character from “the wandering monk, Tripitaka, from Journey to the West”.
The Golden Sparrow character was inspired by Cheng Pei Pei's character Golden Swallow from the Shaw Brothers film Come Drink with Me. Before trying to kill the Jade Warlord, Golden Sparrow refers to the 1966 film, telling him to "Come drink with" her.
Production began in early 1 May 2007 in the area around the Gobi Desert in China. Before filming began, the entire cast did a costume fitting and a script read through, certain dialogues were altered to suit the different actors' English speaking abilities; this was due to the majority of the cast having English as their second language. Chan described the first day of shooting as "very relaxing" because the shots only required drama and walking, with no action. When the two martial arts veterans (Chan and Li) did film action scenes together for the first time, they both expressed how easy it was to work with one another. Chan explained:
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Filming finished on August 24, 2007, and the film went into post-production on September 29, 2007.
The response to The Forbidden Kingdom, by both critics and audiences, has been positive. As of 1 May 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 64% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 121 reviews — with the consensus being "Great fight scenes, but too much filler". Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 57 out of 100, based on 26 reviews — indicating mixed or average reviews.
The Chinese press, however, responded to the movie less positively. Perry Lam wrote in Muse magazine, 'As a Hollywood blockbuster, The Forbidden Kingdom offers no apologies for its American-Centrism. In fact, it wears it with pride like a badge of honor'
It is sold on single disc and two-disc special editions. The single disc edition has no extras but contains widescreen and full screen presentations of the film. The special edition includes a commentary by director Rob Minkoff, deleted scenes with commentary, featurettes (The Kung Fu Dream Team, Dangerous Beauty, Discovering China, Filming in Chinawood, and Monkey King and the Eight Immortals), a "Previsualization Featurette" with commentary by writer Fusco and director Minkoff, and a blooper reel. In addition to these extras, the Blu-ray release contains a digital copy.
The Forbidden Kingdom grossed a total of $127,906,624 worldwide — $52,075,270 in the United States and $75,831,354 in other territories. In its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, the film grossed $21,401,121 in 3,151 theaters, ranking No. 1 at the box office opening weekend and averaging $6,792 per theater.