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This is about two-thirds of a terrific kung-fu action fantasy film set in ancient China with Jet Li and Jackie Chan and loosely based on Journey to the West. It's a very good movie with great action scenes and lovely scenery.
The rest of the film is about a highly annoying modern-day American teenager who finds himself in ancient China after discovering the Monkey King's magical staff. He accompanies Jackie Chan and Jet Li on their quest to return the staff to its rightful owner while trying to avoid the minions of the evil Jade Warlord.
The writer and the director claim that they considered a story with a Chinese-American teenager being the protagonist in a "get in touch with his roots" story, but Jackie Chan thought it would be better for the main character be a white kid. That way, the outsider, who was obsessed with kung fu movies but did not understand the meaning and philosophy behind kung fu as a martial art, would gain a deeper appreciation for lessons he learned along the way.
This film contains examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: The blade of the Jade Warlord's weapon is smashed into the floor, and then dragged across the room. It cuts through the stone floor like butter. Granted, this is probably a magical blade, but still.
- Acting for Two:
- Action Girl - Golden Sparrow.
- Action Survivor - Jason, obviously.
- Actor Allusion - Jackie Chan as the Drunken Master! Also, Jet Li as a Shaolin monk!
- All Just a Dream - From which Jason awakens right when he's about to be killed by the gang of evil Southies he pissed off earlier...
- Averted, it's not really a dream. He was projecting into another world. Or the past. Or something. As proven by the fact that the staff is gone.
- And That's Terrible: When our Ragtag Bunch of Misfits comes across innocent civilians hanged in the middle of a ransacked village, we get "Behold the tyranny of the warlord." Golden Sparrow even says "He must be stopped" in response.
- An Obnoxious of Bullies The protagonist gets harassed and almost killed by a few.
- Artistic License Geography - Apparently, the Sahara and Gobi deserts are very close by.
- Ascended Fanboy - Did we mention that Jason is a kung fu movie fan?
- Billing Displacement - Neither the posters, nor the trailers ever mentioned Jason. The only hint that he was there at all was his appearance in fleeting images in early trailers, which only served to confuse people.
- Book Ends - Set in an extreme version of Hollywood Boston. Probably because they had a list of American cities with Chinatowns, and Boston is where the dart landed.
- To be fair, portions of it were actually FILMED in Boston's Chinatown district, as opposed to some soundstage or studio lot.
- Celebrity Paradox: Jason is a kung fu movie fan, but apparently does not recognise Jet Li and Jackie Chan's characters as eerily similar in appearance to the actors.
- Chekhov's Gun: The Monkey King's clones. Also the staff, but that got fired so early it doesn't count.
- Convection, Schmonvection - Avoided. The Jade Warlord's volcano is hot, hot enough to burn his robe without it having to touch the lava.
- Covers Always Lie - The dvd cover is basically the same as the poster above, with the protagonist clearly absent in both name and image.
- Dark Action Girl - Ni Chang.
- Death By Origin Story: Golden Sparrow's parents.
- Despair Event Horizon: In the desert, Jason goes through a "We're not gonna make it, are we?" moment. Needless to say, the monk's pep talk makes him get over it pretty quickly.
- Disney Villain Death - Twice.
- Drunken Master - Jackie Chan's character, referencing one of his own series.
- Dueling Stars Movie: If anybody tells you they saw this movie for a reason other than to see Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li, they're probably lying.
- Evil Gloating: Several instances, most notably the Jade Warlord before he tries to have Jason executed
- Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: The Evil Overlord sure likes the color green.
- Fake Action Prologue: A dream about the Monkey King. A subversion of one aspect, because while it looks fake and is revealed to be a dream, those events actually did happen. (Apparently.)
- Foe-Tossing Charge
- Hot Chick with a Sword - Golden Sparrow, Dual-Wielding!
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Ni Chang is able to shoot Lu Yan in the back from really far away and she couldn't even see him.
- Invincible Hero: The Monkey King. In every scene he is seen fighting, he easily beats up the fools who dare to challenge him. His fight against the Jade Warlord is basically him abusing the poor lord, the Warlord barely manages to keep up with him.
- Instant Expert - Averted. While Jason gets remarkably good at kung-fu, in the fight between him and Ni Chang it is blatantly obvious that he is not an expert. Also, his hair is in longer and longer ponytails during the training montage.
- Instrument of Murder - Golden Sparrow is deadly with the tuning pegs of her pipa.
- Koan - Jet Li and Jackie Chan's narration about the nature of kung fu (or perhaps lack there of), includes quotes from the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu, two classics of Taoist (Daoist) philosophy. For example "Learn the form, but seek the formless", "Hear the soundless", "Learn it all, then forget it all", "Learn The Way, then find your own way.", etc.
- Let's Fight Like Gentlemen - Subverted in the prologue, when the Jade Warlord challenges the Monkey King to a fair fight without using magic or weapons. Monkey puts aside his staff and you can guess the rest.
- Let's You and Him Fight - Guess who.
- MacGuffin Escort Mission
- Magical Asian - Both Chan and Li's characters.
- Meaningful Name - Jason Tripitikas. Jason famously went on a quest for the Golden Fleece in Greek mythology, and Tripitikas is a crashingly obvious Shout-Out to Journey to the West.
- Me Love You Long Time - Guess who Golden Sparrow falls for.
- Mighty Whitey - To be fair, while Jason becomes very proficient in kung-fu in a short time, and is able to beat up any number of Jade Soldiers, he is significantly weaker than any of the other more experienced named characters.
- Given that this is a wuxia film, this seems more like a way of elevating him to the rank of main character.
- It should be noted that while the training montage is a short part of the movie, it is very intense (see Training from Hell below) and if you look carefully you can see Jason's hair get longer over the course of the movie indicating the passage of time.
- My Parents Are Dead: When the monk tells Golden Sparrow to go home to her mom and dad, she tells him that they're dead.
- Mythology Gag - Ni Chang interrogating some witnesses to the bar brawl and claiming that "all men are liars" - Her character is a shout-out to the best known Woman Scorned in Chinese fiction.
- No-Nonsense Nemesis - Just shoot the heroes? Ni Chang does, with an arrow, from a great distance. If she had more arrows, the movie would have ended right there.
- Opposed Mentors: Jackie Chan and Jet Li literally fight over the protagonist; its like he's just another facet for their feud. It even provides a quote, "Two tigers can't rule the same mountain."
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: "An orphan girl, a lost traveler, an old drunk, and a monk who has failed at the same task for half his life... Misfits following misfits, in the hope of rescuing a misfit."
- Replacement Love Interest - In the closing Book End. Possibly Reincarnation Romance, given the context of the main part of the story, or an Alternate Self.
- The Reveal: Two minor ones: First the Silent Monk turns out to be one of the Monkey King's clones, and then at the end Lu Yan is the old Chinese man Jason was friends with in the present.
- Rule of Cool - Jackie Chan vs Jet Li!!!
- Rule of Sean Connery - It's highly unlikely anyone saw this film for anything more than Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or both.
- Scenery Porn: Mountains, valleys, forests, deserts, bamboo grove, peach tree grove... yeah, the film doesn't waste any time showing off Chinese landscape.
- Shoot the Messenger - Or stab him, and let his comrades drag him out.
- Shout-Out - Lot's of these, including:
- Drunken Master obviously.
- Golden Sparrow to Golden Swallow, the female protagonist of 1966 wuxia classic Come Drink With Me (大醉俠). Sparrow even invites her enemy to "come drink with me" in an additional tip of the hat.
- Ni Chang to 1993 wuxia film The Bride With White Hair (白发魔女传).
- Southies - Oh God, yes.
- Taken for Granite - The Monkey King turns into a statue early in the story. The whole point of the quest is to bring him back to life.
- Teach Me How to Fight
- Third Person Person - Golden Sparrow. It is probably meant to signify her traumatic past, and the way she has subsumed her identity into her mission, though in the end, she does get one line in first person.
- Took a Level In Badass - The main character, by the end of the movie, he becomes a kung fu master and beats the thugs that were abusing him earlier in the movie.
- Chosen One: Jason is tasked to return the staff to the Monkey King according a prophecy. However, he is only tasked to return the staff, not destined to defeat the Jade Warlord.
- Training From Hell - The character Jason underwent this during the movie. What you didn't know was that Michael Angarano, Jason's actor, though somewhat athletic, also did not know kung fu and had to learn it during the shooting of the movie, undergoing some Training From Hell. Some of the stuff went a little like this:
Kung Fu Master: Your legs aren't flexible enough. We need to work on your flexibility.
Michael Angarano: Okay, so does that mean I'm going to be do stretching exercises?
Kung Fu Master: No, muscles adapt quicker when they're growing anew. Two of my disciples will pull your legs so your muscles rip apart and we'll work on your flexibility as the muscles grow back. You won't be able to walk properly for the next two weeks though.
Michael Angarano: Wait, wha-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! IT HUURTS!!
And three weeks later, Michael Angarano could do a full split.
- Translator Microbes: That's because you're not listening!
- Useless Protagonist: Jason. Justified, though. He is just a random man who gets trapped in a world between a war full of extremely dangerous martial artists with supernatural powers, naturally he has no way to stand up anybody in the movie. This is noted by other characters, and so he goes through a Training From Hell in order to learn true kung fu and be helpful. However, by the end he's still pretty useless as while he becomes an skilled kung fu fighter and is able to beat the soldiers of the Jade Warlord, he is still no match for the big threats (the Jade Warlord and his dragon, the white witch Ni Chang). This is proved in his fight against Ni Chang, where he is humillated and brutality beaten by the white witch, even the Jade Warlord himself mocks Jason for thinking he had a chance against her, really, all his support in the final fight is to bring far more competent fighters to bring down the main antagonists. At least, Jason is now competent enough to stand up for himself in his city, but it really makes you wonder why the Monkey King would choose someone like him to return the staff.
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny - Have we mentioned Jackie Chan vs Jet Li?
- Weirdness Censor: despite Jason being a Caucasian male in a country that, quite possibly, has yet to see a Caucasian male, nobody ever comments on his unusual skin color or facial features.
- Well, there's Jet Li going "Are you sure he's the chosen one? He's not even Chinese!"
- It's also not so weird considering the various peoples that have inhabited western China (modern-day Xinjiang province) in ancient times, such as the Indo-European Tocharians and Yuezhi, as well as the ancestors of the modern Uyghurs. Depending on what time period the film is set in, the local Chinese might very well think that Jason is one of these.
- Whip It Good - Ni Chang not only wields a whip as her primary weapon, but also uses her own Prehensile Hair as a whip when disarmed.
- White-Haired Pretty Girl - Ni Chang
- White Male Lead
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: One of the evil Southies has a three minute long fist-fight with Jason before finally pulling the gun he was so trigger-happy with earlier. To be fair though, as far as he is concerned, Jason just fell off a roof about a minute ago. How is he to know that about a year's worth of kung fu training from Jackie Chan and Jet Li occurred between roof and ground? Guns are messy and bring the cops.
- Wire Fu - Are you surprised?
- You Have Failed Me - The Jade Warlord kills a soldier for bringing him news of the staff's reappearance. Possibly because he was in the process of selecting a girl for the night.