Michael Angarano does a good job playing a king-fu film obsessed nebbish from gritty South Boston, who gets coerced by the local gang into helping hold up the pawnshop he frequents to scrounge cheap DVDs. In the course of the botched robbery, the aged propietor (Jackie Chan) gives him the Staff of the Monkey King and tells him to return it to its rightful owner. Fleeing from the gang, he falls off a roof, and, instead of hitting the pavement, wakes up in "Mythic China." He eventually joins up with Chan, doing his "drunken master" role, an enigmatic Monk (Jet Li), and Sparrow (Yifei Liu), a maiden warrior intent on taking vengeance on the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou), who is responsible for the deaths of her family. For varous reasons of their own, they help him in his quest by guiding him to Five Elements Mountain, the lair of the Jade Warlord, and training him in kung-fu.
By the time they get there, Jason (Angarano) has learned enough to be a formidable warrior, especially when armed with the Monkey King's magic staff, and the quest has become personal. Angarano did indeed learn (movie) king-fu for this role and manages to look credible bouncing around the Jade Warlord's throneroom fighting the Warlord's Jade Army and the witch Ni Chang (Bing Bing Li).
However, the real stars of the movie are Chan and Jet Li, and when they are fighting on screen, everyone else fades into the background. Absolutely the best fight scene in the movie is when Chan as drunken Lu Yan and Li as the Monk go one-on-one. Of course, there are bits where obligatory slo-mo and "wire-fu" are mixed in, but just the pure hand to hand combat with its speed and precision is amazing to watch.
Chan's comedic style tends to set the tone for the film, but even the more serious-action oriented Li gets into the act, as he also gets to play the trickster Monkey King, with a roguish grin and twinkling eye.
Collin Chou makes a good master villian as the envious and treacherous Jade Warlord, ably abetted by henchwoman Ni Chang, the whip-wielding white haired witch. (I don't know what it is with Chinese witches and bullwhips, but I've seen this combo in a couple other films, notably the "Swordsman" series--.)
Cinematography and settings are fantastic. The film is shot on location and takes advantage of the many stiking vistas China has to offer. Special effects are well integrated. (Once again, I am struck by the influence "The Lord of the Rings" has had on fantasy films. The Jade Army marching out is a distinct homage to the army of Mordor leaving Minas Morgul, and the mystic waves attendant on Monkey King being freed echo those that accompanied the dissolution of Sauron.)(That being said, conventions of Chinese cinema remain. Evil henchmen multiply geometrically--i.e. two go down, four more appear, then eight, then sixteen, etc.,--until the good guys break away.)
Typical of the kung-fu genre, there is very little actual blood: a bit seen when one character is wounded by an arrow, an artistic bit from a split lip at the end of a fight. Other than the arrow shot, however, I don't think a blow is landed with an edged weapon throughout the film.
Of course a high-stakes adventure can't be without cost, and who dies in the course of the film may be a bit troubling, although dramatically and honestly foreshadowed.
The movie's quest plot is simple, straightforward, and played with sincerity as well as humor. All the actors do a marvelous job of integrating their actions with special effects flying staves, magic bursts, and room-length flailing hair. Pure fun.
In English, with occasional Mandarin with English subtitles.