Renzo’s Rant: The Kung Fu Kid
Hey, remember Ralph Macchio? He was that twenty-three year old guy who made that movie where the Italian teenager befriends an old Asian man when he’s picked on by bullies and learns martial arts and life lessons. He then continued to play that Italian teenager until he was twenty-eight and the producers finally decided he was too old and recast Hillary Swank as Daniel-san, setting a precedent for her cross-dressing roles in years to come. Well anyway, one can only assume that at the ripe old age of forty-seven, The Mach was a bit too long in the tooth to return to the franchise and reprise his role in this week’s new release, The Forbidden Kingdom.
What’s that? It’s not a new Karate Kid movie? Well, it might as well be. Or at least a Kung Fu Kid movie, because that’s pretty much the only difference. It’s kinda like those lame generic rip-offs of name brand food products you see at the grocery store: Fruity Hoops (Froot Loops), Lickety-Splits (Oreos), and the like. It stars Michael Angarano, an actor who, by having turned twenty only four months ago, surpasses Mach right off the bat by actually being a teenager. He also possesses the requisite immediately-identifiable Italian surname, so we’re off to a good start.
Michael is a geeky, awkward kid who is the frequent target of tough, street-fighting bullies. He takes solace in the world of kung fu movies and has befriended a geriatric and senile Jackie Chan, who owns a pawn shop in Chinatown. Although we don’t see it, one can only assume that at one time or another, Jackie conned Mike into painting his fence, mopping his floor, and waxing his car. Except this time, he wasn’t surreptitiously teaching him fighting techniques, he just wanted the kid to do some free labour. Hey Jackie, Mr. Miyagi’s family was killed in the war, what’s your excuse for being a dick?
On one fateful night, Mike is accosted by the street thugs and forced to lead them to old man Chan’s store, They’re planning to rob the joint, because if there’s one place that’s guaranteed to give a big payoff, it’s a dusty old shop whose only business is selling used DVDs to a teenage kid. They’d probably make more money going home and checking under the cushions on their parents’ furniture. In a genuinely shocking turn of events, the leader of the thugs flips out and shoots the old man, then tries to kill Mike. Our hero runs for it, taking with him a golden bo staff that is apparently destined to be returned to its rightful owner, a flamboyantly homosexual monkey that bears a striking resemblance to Jet Li. But more on that later.
After being chased to a rooftop by his pursuers, Mike is mysteriously thrown to the ground by his shiny staff. Before he makes contact, though, he blacks out and awakens in - get this - medieval China. Far out! What amazing luck that the person sent back in time by the staff would be a kid with an encyclopedic knowledge of ancient China. Mike is understandably confused, and does what any reasonable person would do in that situation: he heads to the local bar to get drunk. Well, not really, but that’s where he ends up after being attacked by soldiers and saved by a younger, drunker Jackie Chan. This Jackie is a lot more spry than his last incarnation, and constantly swigs, from a gourd canteen, an alcoholic elixir reputed to grant him immortality. In addition to Karate Kid parallels, we’ve now stepped into Drunken Master territory.
While Jackie is getting sauced at the bar, he tells Mike the expositional story behind the golden staff he carries. In short, the Jade Emperor, who rules the skies from a nice little floating garden, has a pesky habit of taking off to places unknown for extended periods every few hundred years. Compounding this situation is the fact that his clearly evil second-in-command, the Jade Warlord, is left in charge while he’s gone. We know that the Warlord is evil because, among other reasons, he wears an obscene amount of makeup. Eyeliner, mascara, blush, lipstick...seriously, this guy makes Gary Glitter look like “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Even worse, he forces all of his soldiers to glam it up with him, so as they run around the countryside raping and pillaging, they look like some kind of transvestite chorus line with swords.
Which brings us to the gay monkey. Apparently he and his golden staff just showed up at the floating garden one day and started goofing off and fucking with people’s shit. The Emperor, who must have a pretty sophomoric sense of humour, thought his hijinks were hilarious and gave him protected species status. The Warlord was less easily amused, however, and as soon as the emperor leaves, he invites the monkey to come fight him in a duel. Seeing nothing suspicious in this offer, the monkey accepts and they have a big exciting fight scene, during which we are shown one of his awesomer powers: he can pull out one of his hairs and turn it into a doppelganger clone to fight with him. There’s absolutely nothing important about this, so you can forget about it immediately. To make a long fight sequence short, the monkey ends up entombed within a stone statue, moments after hurling his staff, the key to his freedom, through space and time and into senile Jackie’s pawnshop. Got all that?
Uh oh. The Jade troops have returned, and they really want that staff. By now Jackie’s BAC is somewhere in the triple digits, so they might need a bit of help. Enter baseball legend and noted third-person speaker Rickey Henderson, who has for the purposes of secrecy assumed the form of a beautiful young Chinese woman named Sparrow. She helps the duo escape, and they head for the hills to formulate their plan to rescue the monkey statue. Fortunately for Mike, Sparrow (as well as everyone else in medieval China) is fluent in modern English, a language not yet invented, so he’s able to awkwardly chat her up and try to get a romantic subplot going. Unfortunately for Mike, he thinks that her third-person speech is a result of English being her second language, and he does not realize that she is simply mentally retarded.
Meanwhile, a guy who looks suspiciously similar to the monkey arrives on the scene. But he couldn’t possibly be the monkey because, as you’ll recall, he’s currently trapped in a statue and doesn’t have the ability to spawn clones of himself from his hair. So clearly it’s just a coincidence. It’s also just a coincidence that this guy’s on a mission to acquire the staff, the only thing that can rescue the monkey from the statue. He swoops in and swipes the stick, and Jackie, who is a bit sobered up by now, is not going to take it lying down. Time for another extended fight scene! About twenty minutes later, they finally come to the realization that they’re both after the same thing. The Not-monkey, now identified as the Silent Monk (because, get this, he doesn’t talk very much), agrees to join them and turn their elite fighting trio into a quartet. Speaking of which, how are your fighting skills, Mike?
Awwwwww yeeeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh! Did someone say training montage?! Queue up the Joe Esposito, ‘cause you’re the... BEST... AROU- oh, wait. Not Karate Kid, right. Damn. Okay, what catchy, powerbar-driven anthems do we have? None? Just regular orchestral score?? But how is the audience supposed to know that the main character is undergoing a transformation of not just body, but also mind and self? How are they going to see small degrees of progress, over the course of many days and weeks, compressed into a 60 to 90 second sequence of quick cuts and triple takes? Yeesh.
Well, they somehow manage to find a way of doing it. Jackie teaches Mike how to hold his liquor and fight drunk, Sparrow teaches him how to avoid the use of first-person pronouns, and the Monk teaches him how to just shut up entirely. After a good twenty minutes of training, he’s ready to take on the entire Jade army. But the Jade Warlord has a trump card up his sequinned sleeve - the white-haired witch, Mi Chang, to whom he has promised the fabled elixir of immortality in exchange for the staff. He fails, however, to inform her that Jackie is carrying a virtually identical elixir around on his belt, and thus there’s really no incentive for her to hand over the staff when she can just keep it along with Jackie’s gourd. Speaking of which, Jackie’s been too busy training Mike to remember to fill ‘er up lately, and his stores are running a bit low.
This proves to be a bit more than a minor oversight a few minutes later, when Chang and her troops attack the gang. Our heroes manage to escape, but wouldn’t you just know it, Jackie gets shot with a magic arrow shot by the witch. When he goes to take a swig of the ol’ Jesus juice to patch it up, we see that the canteen has run dry. Uh oh. But wait! Doesn’t the Jade Warlord have his own supply of elixir? Fuck the monkey king, let’s trade his staff for that! And whom should we send to make the exchange? Why, the teenage white kid from Boston who just learned kung fu yesterday, of course! The Jade Warlord is happy to hand the elixir over, but remembering that it’s already been promised to Chang, suggests that the two fight to the death for it. Mike is in way over his head, but he’s desperate enough to save his drinking buddy that he agrees. In a genuinely shocking turn, Chang’s superior fighting skills allow her to emerge triumphant.
Before she can finish Mike off, the Monk and Sparrow arrive just in the nick of time. Lots of fighting here...let’s see, Chang fights Sparrow, the Monk fights the Warlord, and Mike nabs the potion and gives it to Jackie. He cannonballs that shit and regains his strength, just in time for the Warlord to kill the Monk. Mike has gotten his hands on the staff and as he smashes the statue, the Monk turns back into - wait for it - a golden monkey hair. Holy monkey fuck. I did not see that coming. The monkey king takes on the Warlord, as Jackie finishes off Chang. Sparrow foolishly launches a jade dart at the Jade Warlord, forgetting that objects of alike mineral repel rather than attract. The dart bounces off the Warlord, who is made of rubber, and straight back at Sparrow, who is made of glue. This is not a good thing for Sparrow. Jackie, the monkey king and Mike go totally tag-team on the Warlord, and Mike delivers the killing blow.
The Jade Emperor returns the very next day, meaning that if Jackie could have just survived for a few more hours, that entire last paragraph would have been completely unnecessary. Oh well, shoulda woulda coulda. The Emperor thanks Mike and offers to send him back to his home in present day Boston. With his only hope of ever getting laid in this world now dead, he agrees. Sure enough, we find Mike reappearing on the street outside old man Chan’s store, with the thugs right behind him. But this time, he can fight them off with kung fu! And not just the fake kung fu you learn by watching movies, but the real kind you learn from a drunk, a mute and a girl with a mental disability! With his foes thus dispatched, Mike returns to the store and finds that old man Chan is still alive. But how? Because he drank all that elixir, you idiot! Geez, haven’t you been paying attention?
Oh, and the next day, he meets Sparrow. She’s now been reincarnated as a Chinese-American woman who works at a tacky souvenir shop. So she’s got that going for her, which is nice. And while Mike’s magical adventure is over, his lifelong mastery of kung fu has just begun. We leave him on the roof of his apartment building, busting out some sweet moves.
But remember to sweep the leg, Mikey. Sweep the leg.