The fusion of two legendary heroes, namely Jet Li and Jackie Chan is indeed a historic event in the film history. Known for their death-defying moves, superb acting and one of a kind acting, Forbidden Kingdom is yet another movie that exemplifies the convergence of both the East and the West. Perhaps it is safe to assume that one of the reasons behind the movie’s appeal is due to the fact that the themes presented in it contextualizes the eastern culture and at the same time, the techniques and effects used were flavored with the western touch.
However, on a much critical perspective, it can be observed that the film is not devoid of the Hollywood orientation that has been dominating the movie industry. For this essay, Hollywood orientation is not only understood in terms of catering to a mainstream audience. Along with this is the commodification of films—wherein film’s value and importance is equated to commercial success. Therefore, it seems that Forbidden Kingdom’s artistic integrity and creativity were placed into very uncompromising situation. Jackie Chan and Jet Li are two renowned Chinese actors. Forbidden Kingdoms’ themes represent China’s rich culture, tradition and heritage. The two actors chosen to portray the most important roles can readily give justice to the characters that they portray. This is something that cannot be solely attributed to their acting capabilities. More than anything else, the two are Chinese descendants and the whole story per se reflects the historical experiences of the two. Yet, if one has to take a closer look, the manner wherein language is utilized in the said film tends to demerit the artistic aspect of Forbidden Kingdom.
Language contributes to a better understanding of a featured film. Language, when combined with film allows the viewers to better understand the feelings and emotions that a particular movie wants to convey. Although, actions can stand on its own, language enables the viewers to have a generic interpretation of the movie involved. But then again, the manner wherein language is used in Forbidden Kingdom clearly presents Hollywood’s hegemonic stand.
Hegemony, as a concept is nothing new within the field of cultural and critical analysis. The term has been used since the ancient times (Casey, 2002). However, as for the case of media criticisms and discussions, hegemony, as discussed by the Italian theorist, Antonio Gramsci is often used (Slattery, 2003). Gramsic’s hegemony combines the Marxist notion of achieving “collective political consciousness (Knutsen, 1999)” and the Machiavellian thinking that pushes the achievement of “consensus (Knutsen, 1999).” The combination of the two schools of thoughts contributes in hegemony’s existence. As for the case of Forbidden Kingdom, the Hollywood language’s hegemony is very much evident. First of all, despite of the fact that the whole story revolves around the Chinese culture, and that the main characters involved are Chinese, it is still English that is used as the primary mode of communication. Although, there are instances wherein Chinese was instead used, these are very limited. What does this situation purport? This simply means that Forbidden Kingdom was placing much importance on the film’s monetary considerations. The film needs a medium that can be readily understood by individuals from different parts of the world. Since English is considered as the “global lingua franca,” the said treatment tends to belittle, cinema’s primary purpose and function. Once and for all, the film could have been more artistic if the characters were allowed to use their own native tongue. The setting of the story is in China, therefore, if anyone should adapt with the community, it should be Jason, the kung-fu enthusiast who was then hailed as the chosen one to return the magic staff to the Monkey King. Hegemony is displayed, since Hollywood in this case was able to assert its claims that for films to be understood and patronized, the English language should be used and the viewers’ attendance seem to confirm the said notion. Thus, there is, as what Gramsci purports, “collective political consciousness” and at the same time “consensus.”
This argument is also congruent to Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism (Crang & Thift, 2000). Orientalism purports that the West tends to create certain concepts and stereotypes about the East—that the images they produce regarding the East is not based on how the latter constructs itself—but rather, it is more of the Western’s thinking (Crang & Thift, 2000). Therefore, most of the times “othering” occurs. This is what happened to Forbidden Kingdom (Crang & Thift, 2000). The movie made the characters looked as if they are Americans via the language that they used. When hegemony and “othering” is experienced within a particular movie, the hierarchical discrepancies are pretty highlighted. The presence of the “superior” and the “subordinate” is very much manifested.
Speaking of inequality, it can be seen that while it is true that the story is set in the Chinese community, it seems that the role played by Jackie Chan and Jet Li were simply secondary as compared to the ones portrayed by Michael Angarano, the one that played Jason in the film. From a critical observation, the focal points of the story simply revolve around the adventures of Jason. His encounters with Chan and Li were simply part of the whole adventure process. The highlights of the said story were still directed on how Jason will be able to return the magic staff to the Monkey King. Chan and Li were simply supporting the whole escapade. It seems that the participation of Chan and LI were merely incorporated to have a showcase or spectacle of martial arts and techniques.
In the meantime, Forbidden Kingdom also uses an allusion to the Chinese epic, “Journey to the West” wherein the Monkey King became a loyal companion of a monk that allowed the proliferation of Buddhism in China. Based from this, it can be said that the film has the opportunity to explore more of China’s culture and tradition—and besides the story of the Monkey King is worthy to be given more airtime. However, in this case, the Hollywood dogma still prevails. The film’s airtime is less than two (2) hours. It seems that if given the chance, the movie could have explored more of the story. It seems that the two hours is insufficient. The scenes were simply too short and so is the allotted time.
This is rather expected rather than come as too much of a surprise. The film, indeed was made for commercial purposes that somehow affects the overall development of the chosen story. It seems that the film was intentionally made to run for only two hours so that it can be shown for several times. As a result, more and more people shall consume the (product) and this means more income for the producer’s part.
Rob Minkoff, is the director of the said film. The fact that he was able to convince two internationally acclaimed to actors to work on the same project is indeed a huge success that is worthy to be appreciated and recognized. This project seems to be a big break for Rob Minkoff’s career. Minkoff is also the director of other box office hits such as the Lion King, Stuart Little 1 and Stuart Little 2 as well as the Haunted Mansion (“Rob Minkoff,” n.d). Based from this, it can be seen that these are all formulated films. They are formulated in the sense that they are readily made to be consumed within a specific period of time alone. Sad as it may seemed, but films in this case have been often portrayed as products or goods that should be readily consumed by the public—cinema’s artistic side was given less importance and value. But of course, this is something that is apparent in Minkoff’s film creations. It seems that the latter tends to create films that are readily made for the mainstream audience. But not only was it made for mainstream audience, it is something that the whole family can enjoy.
Given this situation at hand, Minkoff tends to lose the opportunity of exploring more of what Chan and Li can do within a featured film—most especially if it is a culturally-oriented one. It seems that the two actors were simply used to advertise the film and therefore attract more audiences or viewers. If one has to scrutinize the film, the story itself seems to simply repackage the previous stories wherein the East meets West. Minkoff still sees the movie from the western perspective. Therefore, the manner wherein he treats the whole story—the way the characters speak and the ideological and power struggle between the two races are still felt.
Take for example the scene wherein Chan and Li seem to disapprove Angarano’s role simply because he is not Chinese. The two, in the film found it hard to accept the fact that the one destined to return the staff do not belong to their race. Somehow, this attempt can be fairly described as a satirical one or a parody for that matter. There is the satire about the ongoing clashes of race misrepresentations in the film context. But the manner wherein this satire is presented exemplifies parody at its fullest. But then again, although it is true that the film tries to be critical, it is still the Hollywood—the Western point of view that dictated the trend and development of the said film.
On the other hand, in as far as the audience is concerned, it can be fairly said that the movie was well-attended. As previously mentioned, the movie seems to target the whole family as the main audiences. Both young and old patrons came to see the film, but it is also noteworthy to mention that majority of the viewers are male. The number of male and female audiences speaks of something—that martial arts is still seen as a “male thing.” It is one of those shows that can be best described as something that works best for the male viewers.
In the meantime, since the film was generally made for the family, Forbidden Kingdom, is a “mainstream” production. There is nothing wrong with mainstream movies. However, as stated earlier, the commercialistic appeal of films tend to abolish and readily abandon cinema’s quest for artistry and articulation of socially significant themes and concepts.
Films are often tagged as representations of reality. Because of this function, movies have the capacity to indoctrinate and educate its viewers. But film making is also a business endeavor that aims to achieve profit and revenues to continue their operations. However, if film’s business aspect is given more importance, then its ability to be transformed as an artwork slowly exits the silver screen.
Casey, B. et. al. (2002). Television Studies: The Key Concepts. New Fetter Lane, London: Routledge
Crang, M. and Thrift, N. (2000). Thinking Space. New Fetter Lane, London:Routledge
Knutsen, T. (1999). The Rise and Fall of World Orders. Manchester, UK :Manchester University Press,
“Rob Minkoff” (n.d). Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 07 May 208 from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0591450/
Slattery, M. (2003). Key Ideas in Sociology. United Kingdom :Nelson Thomas Ltd.