Wushu Cinema: Jackie Chan and Jet Li together at last!

In an Unknown Place, On a Dangerous Path, an Unbelievable Journey!


Text: Emilio Alpanseque
Photos by: Chan Kam Chuen
Courtesy of: Lionsgate

Shot on location in China, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM marks the historic first-ever onscreen pairing of colossal martial arts superstars Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and features non-stops awe-inspiring action choreography by Yuen Woo Ping. A formula that simply cannot go wrong!


The story is about a western teenager named Jason Tripitakas (Michael Angarano) who is very obsessed with Hong Kong cinema and Kung Fu classics. One day, while hunting down bootleg DVDs in a Chinatown pawnshop, he found an antique Chinese staff, an extraordinary discovery that sends him hurtling back in time to ancient China. There, Jason is charged with a monumental task: he must free the fabled warrior known as the Monkey King (Jet Li), who has been imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord (Coleen Chou) for five hundred years. Jason is joined in his quest by wise drunken kung fu master Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), an enigmatic and skillful Silent Monk (Jet Li); and a vengeance-bent kung fu beauty, Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei). Together they have a mission to return the staff to its rightful owner, the Monkey King. Along the way, while attempting to outmaneuver scores of Jade Warriors, Cult Killers and the deadly White Haired Demoness (Li Bingbing), Jason learns about honor, loyalty and friendship. Only by learning the true precepts of kung fu can Jason hope to succeed - and find his way back home.


The Forbidden Kingdom is not the cinematic version of any specific Chinese literary work. Rather, the filmmakers wanted to draw some of the characters and situations from ancient Chinese legends, folk stories and even Kung Fu movie characters as the protagonist Jason Tripitakas embarks on his journey to the east. It has been reported that the all the Chinese crew, including Jackie Chan and Jet Li, felt a bit awkward knowing the mix of characters and ideas on one single movie, but the producers are hoping that by exposing a bit of this universal culture to a whole new audience who isn't so familiar with it, it perhaps may stir-up their interest to find out more about it.

The basis of this film's plot is the classical novel "Journey to the West", written in the 16th Century by Wu Cheng'en. Jet Li's character Monkey King is probably the most popular character of this 100-chapter masterpiece that narrates the pilgrimage a Buddhist monk called Xuanzang from China to India. This monk was the source inspiration for Jet Li's main character Silent Monk, but it was later modified in order to help the movie's script - Monk Xuanzang couldn't fight, and Jet Li needed to be able to show his martial skills on the screen.

The staff that Jason finds on the pawnshop owned by Jackie Chan's second character is actually the "Ru Yi Jin Gu Bang", the magical staff of Sun Wukong also mentioned in the classic. Lastly, the kid's surname Tripitakas refers to how monk Xuanzang is called in many western translations of the novel, "Tripitaka", which actually is an honorary title that monk Xuanzang carried due to his mastery of the Buddhist canons.

Jackie Chan's main character Lu Yan borrows different elements from a group of legendary deities revered by Taoists in Chinese mythology called "The Eight Immortals". As most martial arts cinema fans know, Chan had already humorously played with these characters on his blockbuster film "Drunken Master" (1978), where the great Yuen Siu Tien (Yuen Woo Ping's father) personalized a drunken master called "Begger So" - there is no doubt that Chan is playing homage to him in the Forbidden Kingdom. Going back to the "The Eight Immortals", Lu Yan is the name of one of them, also known as Lu Dongbin, howewer in the Forbidden Kingdom, the character Lu Yan relates more to other immortals like Tieguai Li, a homeless beggar who wears a gourd wine bottle across his shoulder and carries a walking staff and Zhang Guolao, an elderly magician who rides a donkey backwards.

Another sample of inspiration is Li Bingbing's character, the "White Haired Demoness", which is based on the anti-heroine of a novel by the same name written by Liang Yusheng during the 50s, which inspired the Hong Kong films "The Bride with White Hair I & II" (1993). Moreover, Liu Yifei's character, "Golden Swallow", is based on a Robin Hood-like beauty played by famous actress Cheng Pei Pei in a number of Shaw Brothers classic films like "Come Drink with Me" (1966). And like that, many more references are present on this film.


Jackie Chan - Born in Hong Kong, Chan was enrolled in a Beijing Opera School at age 7 where he spent the next 10 years training in the art of Beijing Opera, which includes a blend of skill such as acrobatics, martial arts, acting and singing that later helped him become a stuntmen and stunt coordinator within the Hong Kong movie industry. Today, he is arguably the most famous martial arts movie actor in the world. Starting his career from early 1970's, he has played roles in over 100 films.

Jet Li - Born in China, moved to Beijing at early age and later began practicing Wushu (the general term for all Chinese martial arts) at the young age of 8. After three years of extensive training, Li won his first national championship for the Beijing Wushu Team. For the next five years (1974 -1979), he remained the All-Around National Wushu Champion of China. Shortly after that, Li was offered many starring roles including the main character of the trilogy of "The Shaolin Temple" (1982-86), movies that catapulted his film career to stardom. Currently, he is now the best paid Chinese actor in Hollywood.

Michael Angarano - Born in United States, Angarano started working on film and television at the early age of 5 where he guest starred on several important programs. Around the age of 12, Angarano was receiving more complex roles and challenges, and soon his film career also blossomed with critically acclaimed performances. Prior to The Forbidden Kingdom, he did not have any martial arts background but proved to be a natural on the screen.

Collin Chou - Born in Taiwan, Chou began training martial arts at the age of 5 years old. At the age of 12, he began performing stunts on film shoots and landed his first leading role at the age of 18. After serving the military service, he headed to Hong Kong to pursue his acting career as part of the Sammo Hung stuntmen team. In Hollywood he's best known for his "The Matrix Reloaded" (2003) and his role as Jet Li's father in "Fearless" (2007).

Liu Yifei - Born in China, Liu began modeling at the age of 8 and was trained in singing, dancing and the piano. Moving to the United States in 1998 with her mother, Liu lived there for four years. She returned to China in 2002 to pursue a modeling and acting career and was accepted into the Performance Institute of Beijing Film Academy at the age of 15. Soon after that, Liu received numerous offers to star in various television drama serials rising to unprecedented levels of popularity.

Li Bingbing - Born in China, Li graduated from Shanghai Theatre Academy, majoring in drama. A professional actress for 10 years, she achieved stardom not overnight but through hard work. In 2001, Li starred in a TV series Young Baoqingtian, which propelled her to become one of the most famous actresses in China. That year she was awarded the title of one of the "Top Ten Best TV actors/actresses in China".


The action choreography for this film was done using the Hong Kong style of action filmmaking; renowned director Yuen Woo Ping and his team, the Yuen Clan, handled all the fight choreography. The martial arts scenes are certainly well above par in terms of quality and quantity with plenty of altercations and some inventive training sequences before an incredible final showdown. Different types and levels of fighting, choreography and sensibility were used, spanning from intense bone-crushing realistic fights to the more epic battle type, including lots of wirework, flips and summersaults.

Each character has its own collection of special techniques and a particular style, the Monkey King uses Monkey Boxing, Lu Yan uses Drunken Boxing and Hung Gar, Golden Sparrow is an expert of Lightweight Kung Fu, and so forth. There are bits and pieces of other styles like Tiger Claw, Snake Fist, Leopard Style, Crane Boxing, Eagle Claw, Praying Mantis, Tan Tui and more. Also, plenty of weapons were employed such as swords, staves, spears, butterfly knives, arrows, darts, double hook swords, whips, and even the hair of the White Haired Demoness.

The teaming up of Jackie Chan and Jet Li had everyone in the martial arts community full of eagerness. The addition of Yuen Woo-Ping as the fight coordinator raised the expectations bar even more. And the result lives up to the promise of what you would anticipate from these exceptional martial artists. Having worked with both actors in the past, Yuen was able to envision interesting and staggering fight choreography for both titans with great ease. Chan and Li demonstrated to have incredible chemistry together, martial arts choreography chemistry. Both actors have written on their respective internet blogs about their experience fighting each other. Chan said to have felt in complete harmony with Li's movements, a feeling he hasn't had for over 15 years. The same feeling he used to have when he worked with his Beijing Opera brothers Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. On his turn, Li declared that the opportunity to square off with Chan was a life-long dream finally coming true. He expressed how in the past he rarely could complete fight sequences with more than ten movements because most of his fighting partners could only do three or four movement in one take, which was not the case with Chan. In fact, their duel went by in such a quick blur that the cinematographer and the director decided to slow down the camera speed so the moves could be seen. Even Yuen Woo Ping said that they were too fast.

In summary, the long awaited "J&J Project" has become a reality. The Forbidden Kingdom is a fun combination of spectacle, martial arts flashiness, sublime silliness and anti-gravity action. We have the two best martial arts movie stars - Jackie and Jet- working together under Hollywood production values. Certainly, the film will completely entertain all audiences, and the epic battle between Chan and Li perhaps will become legendary!