“THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR” (2008) Review

 

“THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR” (2008) Review

Universal Pictures recently released its third film in ”THE MUMMY” franchise, starring Brendan Fraser as adventurer Rick O’Connell. This third outing centered around Rick and his family’s attempts to stop the resurrection of a ruthless Chinese emperor in post-World War II China. 

The film began with a narration about the rise to power of Emperor Han (Jet Li), the Dragon Emperor and detailed the relationship between him and Xi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh), who knows the secrets of immortality. Han declared to his first in command General Ming (Russell Wong) that no one is to touch Xi Yuan, however ever since General Ming was charged with finding Xi Yuan and bringing her to Han, he ended up falling for her. After Xi Yuan supposedly cast the immortality spell on Han, he ushered Xi Yuan to the balcony where they look down to see General Ming tied at the arms and legs about to be pulled apart by horses. Han found out about their relationship and killed Ming while Xi Yuan watches. He then stabbed her, but she escaped. Knowing that the Emperor would destroy the world if he were to become immortal, Xi Yuan placed a curse on him and his army to be turned to stone.

The movie shifted to late 1946/early 1947, at a time when explorer Rick O’Connell (Fraser), his archeologist/novelist wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) and brother-in-law Jonathan Carnahan (John Hannah) are now retired. Both Rick and Evelyn seemed to be bored with their retirement. Their son Alex (Luke Ford) has dropped out of school and has become what the older O’Connells still long to be, explorers and adventurers. Alex, along with the financial backing of a colleague of his parents, Roger Wilson (David Calder), found and excavated the Dragon Emperor’s tomb and is attacked by a mysterious woman (Isabella Leong). They avoid being harmed and successfully bring the Emperor back to Shanghai, where Jonathan owns a night club called Imhotep. In the meantime, the British government entrusted the elder O’Connells to take the Eye of Shangri-La back to China as a good faith gesture from the British to the Chinese. All the O’Connells end up at Alex’s exhibit in Shanghai. Roger, General Yang (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and his second in command Choi (Jessey Meng) intervened, taking the Eye of Shangri-La and forcing Evelyn to read the script to open the Eye and release the Emperor. Alex found the mysterious woman from the excavation site at the exhibit and after a quick dialogue, both helped in freeing Alex’s parents. With the resurrected Han escaping with General Yang, the O’Connells chased them through the streets of Shanghai until the Dragon Emperor and Yang escaped. The mysterious woman turned out to be an immortal named Lin a protector of the Dragon Emperors tomb. She also happened to be Xi Yuan and General Ming’s daughter. Lin informed the O’Connells that Han will try to become immortal by going to Shangri-La using the Eye as its guide.

When I learned that Stephen Sommers, who had directed the first two ”MUMMY” films, would not be returning at the helm to direct this third movie, I had a small suspicion that the latter would not possess the same production values as the first two films. And when Universal Pictures released the news that the film would be released in the second half of the summer, instead of May, my suspicions were confirmed. And I was right. The production values of ”THE MUMMY: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” did not seem as impressive as its two predecessors. Aside from the impressive set that served as mid-1940s Shanghai, Simon Duggan’s photography failed to capture the epic grandeur of the first two films.

The cinematography was not the only thing about this film that disappointed me. I must admit that I was not that impressed by the film’s final battle near the Great Wall of China. Everything seemed rushed, as if either the two screenwriters – Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (creators of ”SMALLVILLE”) or the film’s director, Rob Cohen (”THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” and ”XXX”), were in a rush to end the film. What disappointed me more than anything were the two hand-to-hand fight scenes in the finale. After the spectacular fight between Jet Li and Jackie Chan in ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM”, I had expected something just as or nearly as spectacular in the fight scene between Li and Michelle Yeoh. After all, both are martial arts icons who have worked in previous movies together. But it did not last very long. Hell, it barely last two minutes on the screen. And although Li’s fight scene with Fraser did last a longer, it failed to recapture the more interesting fight scene between Fraser and Arnold Vosloo in ”THE MUMMY RETURNS”.

Thankfully, ”THE MUMMY: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” possessed virtues, as well as flaws. The story of the O’Connell family being manipulated into raising a Chinese mummy turned out to be a solid adventure that took the family from the streets of Shanghai, to the Himalayas, the edge of the fabled Shangri-La and finally China’s famous Great Wall. Even better, the story told the twofold story of Rick and Evelyn learning and failing to deal with professional retirement and their joy in being led into a new adventure. The movie also featured a family drama centered around the O’Connells’ efforts to re-connect with their only son, Alex.

Even though I had expressed disappointment at the screenwriters and Rob Cohen’s handling of the finale, I must admit that the film featured four sequences that I truly enjoyed. The first featured Alex and Wilson’s discovery of Emperor Han’s tomb and their hostile encounter with Lin. The second sequence occurred in the snowy Himalayas, where the O’Connells, Jonathan and Lin attempt to prevent the resurrected Han from reaching the tower that will reveal the path to Shangri-La when the Eye, a precious blue diamond is placed on top of it, and fight off General Yang and some of his men. There is a short moment in the first half of the movie in which a bored Evelyn tries to inject a little excitement in hers and Rick’s lives by seducing him in a slinky nightgown. Instead of being successful, the desperate Evelyn found Rick sitting in an armchair – fast asleep and snoring. This was one of the most hysterical examples of a mid-life crisis I have ever seen on film and probably the funniest moment in the entire franchise. But the sequence that I truly enjoyed featured the O’Connells’ adventures in Shanghai – from the moment when Rick and Evelyn are reconciled with Alex and Jonathan, to the riotous chase sequence through the streets of Shanghai. I thought it was wonderfully detailed and well staged. The sequence also featured a mean hand-to-hand fight scene between Evelyn and Yang’s second-in-command, Choi. Frankly, I consider their fight the best one in the entire movie.

Both Brendan Fraser and John Hannah returned to reprise their roles of Rick O’Connell and Jonathan Carnahan for the third time. And as they had done in the first two movies, did excellent jobs. Come on. This Brendan and John we are talking about. They can do no wrong in my eyes. I honestly have to say the same about Maria Bello as Evelyn Carnahan O’Connell. I must admit that I had been disappointed when I first learned that Rachel Weisz had decided not to reprise the role of Evelyn. Do not get me wrong. I loved Rachel as Evelyn. But I must admit that Maria Bello actually made me forget about her. I enjoyed Maria’s performance as Evelyn that much. Her Evelyn is, of course, older and a little more assured. And like her husband, is bored with life. And I was surprised to discover that she had great chemistry with Fraser. I must admit that I felt a little unsure about Luke Ford’s performance as Alex. There were times I found him rather interesting. There were other times when I found his performance a little over-the-top. I also found his accent rather confusing, until I realized that it was neither American nor British. I discovered that Ford was an Australian actor. But his natural accent did not seem effectively hidden. Isabella Leong did a solid job as the young woman who helps the O’Connells stop Han. But I must admit that I found nothing remarkable or extraordinary about her performance. As for Jet Li . . . well, he was perfect. He is one of the few action stars who could portray both heroic and villainous characters effortlessly. And Michelle Yeoh was wonderfully poignant as the Chinese witch, Xi Yuan, whose curse against the treacherous Han set the entire story in motion.

If I must be frank, ”THE MUMMY: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” lacked the more prestigious production of the first two films. And its finale was one that I found slightly disappointing. However, it did lack the over-the-top . . . almost screeching quality of the second film – ”THE MUMMY RETURNS”. And thanks to the cast, director Rob Cohen, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, this third ”MUMMY” film turned out to be an entertaining film that one would experience a lot of fun watching. My opinion? Go see it.

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“THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” (2008) Review

 

“THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” (2008) Review

Set in present time South Boston and Ancient China, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is a martial-arts/fantasy film that was directed by Rob Minkoff. The movie also co-starred two of the most famous names in the martial-arts genre – Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The movie is basically about a South Boston teenage fan of Hong Kong kung fu films, who is transported back in time to Ancient China via a magical staff. There, he must undertake a quest to free the fabled warrior Sun Wukong aka “The Monkey King”.

In a nutshell, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining action film with strong fantasy and comedy elements. Our two martial arts stars portray Lu Yan – the Drunken Immortal (Jackie Chan) and The Silent Monk (Jet Li), who help Boston teenager Jason Williams (Michael Angarano) free Sun Wukong (also Jet Li) from the clutches of an evil immortal called the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).

”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is not perfect. To be frank, I only have two complaints about the movie. One, the editing by Eric Strand seemed rather choppy. There were moments when the movie lacked a smooth segue from one scene to another. And two, I found the backstory for Jason’s character rather clichéd. It seemed straight out of the rulebook for typical teen angst films that started with 1979’s ”MY BODYGUARD”. You know what I am referring to – shy geeky adolescent who is terrorized by the local bully, has profound experiences before successfully confronting bully in the last reel. Come to think of it, I saw something similar in the fantasy-comedy, ”STARDUST”.

Despite the above-mentioned flaws, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining movie. Jackie Chan and Jet Li proved that despite their different styles and approaches to the martial arts genre, they could generate screen chemistry together. Michael Angarano is perfectly disarming and funny as the Boston teen who finds himself in an unfamiliar world. Portraying his potential love interest is Liu Yi Fei as Golden Sparrow, a young female orphan who seeks vengeance against the main villain. Speaking of villains, both Collin Chou (the Jade Warlord) and Li Bingbing (Ni-Chang, the White-Haired Assassin) provided a solid villainous challenge to the four heroes.

On the surface, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” provides solid entertainment and martial arts action. However, I must commend on two matters. One, I really enjoyed the superb fight sequence between the two martial arts stars – Chan and Li. Whatever expectation I had about their fight, the two stars and fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping more than fulfilled it. I have not enjoyed such a fight scene since Jet Li’s fight with Donnie Yen in ”HERO” or the two Michelle Yeoh/Zhang Yi fight sequences in ”CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON”. I would also like to point out the film’s cinematography shot by Peter Pau. The various landscapes of Ancient China, whether the characters are in the tropics, the forests, the desert or in the mountain regions, are exquisite.

In short, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining film filled with solid action, drama, comedy, and great cinematography. As long as you are not expecting another ”CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON” or”HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS”, you will not be disappointed.