The Forbidden Kingdom: About what we expected, which wasn’t much

Skye: Hello, Heroine Content readers. Today’s review of The Forbidden Kingdom is being co-written by our good friend and fellow feminist Beth. Hello, Beth.

Beth: Hello Skye!

Skye: So Beth, what did we think of The Forbidden Kingdom?

Beth: Unfortunately, I think it was very predictable in the way it portrayed women.

Skye: I was somewhat disappointed myself. What was the first thing that tipped you off that it was going to be less than stellar as far as gender roles?

Beth: Well, I thought it had promise when Sparrow (Yifei Liu) rescued our Young Hero. However, she quickly faded into the background.

Skye: I totally agree. We were so excited to see her kicking ass, but after that incident it was like they started using her for decoration instead of making her an equal partner. The white kid fanboy geek becomes a kung fu master, but the fact that Sparrow already kicks ass isn’t really honored.

Beth: She becomes window dressing.

Skye: I didn’t have a problem with her being young and pretty, ’cause I just expected that since it’s a movie, and I liked the fact that she was dressed in keeping with the rest of the cast instead of falling out of her dress.

Beth: I was disappointed that all the time the hero is becoming a kung fu master, she’s just playing music in the background.

Skye: Why wasn’t she training? Why wasn’t she teaching? I realize that Jackie Chan and Jet Li are supposed to be the stars, but she’s just a sidekick. The poster has four characters standing side by side, but it’s kind of a lie. She should be off in the corner.

Beth: I was disappointed to see them portray the evil female (Bingbing Li as The Witch) in such a characteristic style.

Skye: Basically she’s the sexy evil version of Sparrow?

Beth: Yes.

Skye: She fights with her HAIR.

Beth: And she has to keep hissing and making little claws with her hands.

Skye: Cody told us yesterday that in kung fu cinema, you often see men fighting with feminine styles but you don’t see women fighting with, for example, a big club. I can totally see that here.

Beth: None of the men wanted the women to get dirty.

Skye: Sparrow got the chick fight in the end, as we would expect, but then Jackie Chan even saved her from the chick fight! She didn’t even look like she was losing.

Beth: Apparently they don’t think she was even competent enough to hold her own against the witch. And you made a good point, also, about how women have to have a revenge motive in some way, they have to have been damaged. They can’t just be mean.

Skye: The witch almost seems like she’s just mean, but instead she’s the sexy femme fatale. She’s not just a straightforward warrior. I would have loved to see a woman fighter in this movie who isn’t just a little slip of a pretty girl. Jackie Chan and Jet Li aren’t exactly GQ material. I thought of Landlady from Kung Fu Hustle. Qiu Yuen would have been awesome as one of the Jade Warlord’s top minions.

Beth: That’s what they’re missing.

Skye: It’s awesome that people in various countries in Asia have spent hundreds and thousands of years to develop martial arts so that skinny white boys who watch a lot of television can get Hot Asian Girls. Thank goodness for kung fu.

Beth: The women didn’t even get a lot of parts that were funny!

Skye: Thinking more about Sparrow and the vengeance motivation, I think maybe the reason she spends all her time playing music is to show us that she’s not really violent. That’s the girl she was supposed to be if her life hadn’t been warped by her parents’ murder. She’s really just sweet. Whereas the witch is violent, with no reason given, and it turns her evil. Total contrast to the male world, where you can be violent and pursue justice.

Beth: Yeah, they have to make her more palatable in some way since she’s on the side of good. She didn’t even get to achieve her revenge, because in the end she wasn’t able to kill the Jade Warlord and the Young Hero had to do it for her. So they really portray her as incompetent even though she’s sweet.

Skye: He’s a Chosen One, there’s no way his kung fu could have been better than hers after such a short time unless there was magic involved. Why the heck is there a white guy in this movie anyway? Oh right, so it will sell in America.

Beth: I would have liked to see them take more risks in how they portrayed the female characters, and the plotline in general.

Skye: They could start by making it so that women don’t always have to pay for their violence, whereas men fight the battles and come out perfectly fine. Unless they get staked with a jade hairpin. Note to self: stay away from jade hairpins.


Skye: Hey, don’t do that.

Beth: Sorry. They have to find that out for themselves.

Skye: I would say this movie gets a “So Close” rating, because they get about halfway there and then just screw it up.

Beth: I agree.

Skye: Thank you for coming all the way from Eugene, Oregon to assist with this review.

Beth: I’m happy to oblige. It was fun.

Skye: Do you hate me for taking you to see it?

Beth: No, of course not. It was entertaining.

Skye: We just wish it was better.

Beth: More progressive. But I don’t expect much from action movies to start with.

Skye: We don’t expect, but we hope.

Beth: Yes.


This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

One thought on “The Forbidden Kingdom: About what we expected, which wasn’t much

  1. Mana G

    The one thing I’m surprised you didn’t mention about Forbidden Kingdom is something I noticed, and was bothered by, right away: Sparrow used strictly passive voice. (Spoke of herself in the third person.) The only time in the movie that she uses actual active voice, in fact, is right before her death. The fact that she always said “she” and “her” instead of “me” and “mine” only enforced, to me, the most bothersome aspect of Sparrow: her real lack of personhood throughout the film.

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