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If you haven't gone back to Michael's review of The Forbidden Kingdom since the film opened this past weekend to enter into a discussion about the movie then you haven't missed much. No slight against Michael but I would have thought anyone who saw the movie would have gone back to his review and and least shared your thoughts on it. No worries. This could be just a case of what I call 'Thumper' logic: If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all. I, however, thought I had something good to say and so I'll repost it here, as a lead in to this week's ToM.
It’s hard to be discouraged about a western made martial arts movie that tries to tap into Chinese folklore. The reason I say that is because The Forbidden Kingdom is an important movie from a western standpoint. From a Chinese standpoint? It’ll likely be very embarrassing.
Ask yourself this, what is better? That you appease the relatively small legions of hard core Jackie, Jet and HK film fans? OR, that you provide a stepping stone movie, a movie that will introduce you to key players and themes found in their cinema?
The hardcore fans don’t need to be won over, we’re there with bells on! But if there is anything remotely accessible for that kid in some backwater town and he can get this experience for the first time, not knowing what we know - that it only gets better, then isn’t that better than pleasing the minority? I know, I know, when we all heard that Jet and Jackie were finally going to be in a movie together we collectively screamed in ecstasy. But the pinnacle opportunity for these two has long since passed and we should be glad that it has finally happened rather than how it went down.
Forbidden Kingdom is good. Not great. Not monumental in any regards from a hardcore fan’s perspective. I will say that I am glad that I can finally watch a Jet or Jackie film without having to worry about busting caps in asses, loud hip hop and bass scores, scantily clad Asian girls whoring themselves at nightclubs and listening to Anthony Anderson crack lame jokes every five minutes.
But the good it can do for recruiting potentially new fans is awesome.
So where do you go from there? You've seen The Forbidden Kingdom and a little spark has lit in your gut. You liked what you saw. You want more kung fu. And because we here at ScreenAnarchy sometimes see ourselves as film educators, second to being fans of this type of cinema, we're going to look at the key players in this movie and tell you what your next rentals are going to be. All titles mentioned hereafter are available domestically.
I introduce you to the Forbidden Kingdom Four!
Jackie Chan: If you're going to understand Jackie as a martial arts 'entertainer' then you can do no wrong if you can get your hands on Legend of Drunken Master. This film was originally titled Drunken Master 2 and was released back in 1994. Then the Americans got a hold of it and released it on our shores as Legend of Drunken Master. Either name you give it this is the perfect film if you want to highlight Jackie's martial arts skills and his equally strong entertainment skills. Superbly helmed by Hong Kong icon Lau Kar-leung, who also acted and choreographed the action sequences for his film, it is a superb display of martial arts and is just as entertaining with comedy that transcends cultural divides, something not every Chinese film can accomplish. Add into the mix veteran actors Ti Lung [himself a martial arts icon from the Shaw Brothers era] as Jackie's stern father and the beautiful and sadly missed Anita Mui as his step-mother. Domestically and legitimately you can only get Legend of Drunken Master on DVD, you 'should' not be able to find it as Drunken Master 2. Honorable mention has to go to Jackie Chan's Police Story series of films. There was a remastered box set of those films released in 2004.
Jet Li: If Jackie Chan is a strong entertainer this no doubting that Jet Li is one hell of a strong fighter. If there was ever one film that showcased his fighting more than any other film he made it has to be Fist of Legend. Everyone who knows Jet Li would have to agree with me on this one. As far as fighting goes Fist of Legend, the homage to Bruce Lee's The Chinese Connection, is simply one of the best modern martial arts films made. 1994 was a strong year for martial arts cinema in Hong Kong. Another martial arts master was behind the scenes directing the action. Yuen Wo-ping, who we tend to talk about quite a bit around these parts, created some of the most mind blowing sequences I have ever seen. In Fist of Legend it wasn't a question how good the action looked but how quickly Jet could put down one guy and move onto the next. The action is fast, near visceral and sometimes terminal. If you blink you could miss it! This movie represented Jet at his peak, at his quickest, at his sharpest. All those years of competitive martial arts and training were all focused in this one film. It is bliss!
Collin Chou: Of the three Asian male leads Collin Chou simply doesn't have the international presence his co-stars have. It's not because of a lack of effort. The man has an extensive resume of martial arts cinema including a role in one of the most famous sci-fi trilogies of all time, the Matrix trilogy. For all our sakes I really hope it is just a matter of time, what with Jet's withdrawal from action movies and Jackie's withdrawal from sanity periodically, before Collin becomes the elder statesman of martial arts cinema. If you want to get an idea of the depth of skill this man has then you can go no further than Flashpoint. Only just released last year and graciously saved from being renamed by the western studio you can find Flashpoint just about anywhere. Though overshadowed by his opponent, Donnie Yen, as far as star recognition goes, Collin still proves that he can bring the pain when called upon. The climactic battle between the two of them is simply mind blowing; both agree it was the hardest shoot either of them had endured. It is hard. It is fast. And it is certainly one of the most brutal fights I have ever scene. Flashpoint as a whole has its flaws, one fo the key ones being that that action is mostly at the end of the film, but it is such a huge pay off when that fight comes around. More attention needs to be paid to this man!
Yuen Wo-ping: Sired from the same Chinese opera school that developed the skills of Jackie Chan and other Hong Kong action stars Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, If you haven't seen Yuen's work from his native soil you most certainly have seen his work in the Matrix trilogy and both Kill Bill films. Yuen is simply one of the best and most respected martial arts choreographers to ever come out of Hong Kong. His resume is too extensive to list but if we were to highlight some of his works that you could find domestically we would choose these. As a director you cannot go wrong with Twin Warriors or Iron Monkey starring Jet Li and Donnie Yen respectively. As a choreographer? Hell, take your pick. For beautiful martial arts go with Legend of the Black Scorpion, which is the loosely based Hamlet pic The Banquet from Xiaogang Feng which suffers from a horrible renaming - bastards! You can also see this type of work in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Looking for something a bit more ferocious? Then may we suggest you find Unleashed, released internationally as Danny the Dog. Oh look, that stars Jet Li too.