Forbidden Kingdom, The

West meets East in the new action-adventure “The Forbidden Kingdom,” when an all-American teenager named Jason takes a mythical journey into martial arts legend in the company of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, two of the most acclaimed martial arts stars working in cinema today.

Shot on location in China, “Forbidden Kingdom” is marketed as Clash of the Titans since it marks the first-ever onscreen pairing of martial arts superstars Chan and Li.

In narrative structure and execution, “Forbidden Kingdom” smacks of commercial considerations, which is not bad, if the picture delivered the goods. The production boasts some impressive CGI and eye-popping choreography of action sequences, orchestrated by Woo-Ping Yuen, who achieved impressive work in “The Matrix” and the Oscar-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But it is also burdened by an unsatisfying storyline that's meant to satisfy as many target audiences (demos in Hollywood's parlor) as possible.

What unfolds on screen is sort of an amalgam of various movies and narrative strands, largely due to the characteristics of the three central figures. Let me be more specific.

As is known, the aging Jackie Chan has been overexposed in the Western world (U.S. and Europe) over the past three decades, first in a series of solo films, and then in the New Line franchise “Rush Hour,” which got worse and worse (and less and less profitable) as it progressed. (Chan himself has acknowledged his declining skills, which for decades demonstrated incredibly elastic athleticism).

Younger than Chan, and less familiar, Jet Li has also decorated a large number of films (“Fearless,” “Once Upon a Time in China”) with mixed artistic and commercial results. The third player, the Caucasian hero, sculpted in the mold of the youngsters in “The Lord of the Rings,” only less imaginatively, is known form his TV shows (“24”, “Will and Grace”) and movies (“Lords of Dogdown,” “Seabiscuit”).

The director chosen for this historical reunion, Rob Minkoff, might not have been the right one for the material, having helmed children and family fare like “Stuart Little” and “The Lion King.” His direction is rough in the transitions from mostly banal dialogue to more thrilling action, too soft for that kind of fare, and not particularly exciting in the layering of the kung fu acts.

For viewers old enough to remember, the notion of an eager, bold all-American boy, bonding with an Old Asian master(s), should recall the “Karate Kid” movie series of the 1980s, with Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki (Pat) Morita. (By the way, two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank also began her career as a karate girl, in the least successful chapter of the franchise….).

End result is a sharply uneven, mishmash of a movie, one that subliminally (and perhaps even overtly) functions as a dream for white (and other Western boys) teenagers, fueled by fantasies of reliving Asian myths and practicing martial arts.

The plot line, which is clearer early on, gets unnecessarily convoluted and confusing in the later chapters. While hunting down bootleg kung-fu DVDs in a Chinatown pawnshop, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) makes a discovery that sends him back in time to ancient China, where he is charged with a challenging task that calls for no less than freeing the fabled warrior, the Monkey King, who has been imprisoned by the powerful Jade Warlord.

In what evolves as a multi-generational saga, Jason is joined in his quest by wise kung fu master Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) and a band of misfit warriors including Silent Monk (Jet Li). Singly and jointly, the vet duo serve as mentors who make Jason realize that only by learning the true precepts of kung fu he can succeed and find his way back home.

Scripted by John Fusco, who wrote the western “Young Guns” and the Viggo Mortensen vehicle “Hidalgo,” “Forbidden Kingdom” is a based on the traditional Chinese legend of the Monkey King, made more palatable and accessible for Western viewers, particularly young boys and teenagers.

From an ideological perpsective, the movie offers a field day for semiologists in its concepts of heroism–who is in charge of and has the power to fight evil–and, of course in the sacred and mythic notion of “Home.”

The movie, like many Hollywood youth adventures, has a rather superficial concept of education. As the time-traveling teenage protag, Jason learns to face his fears through the “deeper” meaning of kung fu. Kung fu is presented as a life-changing philosophy, a radical way of life and thinking, not just a way of fighting. We are led to believe that in the end, Jason combines the best of East and West, that he has found a mode to be at peace with himself and those around him. (It's also implied that he's expected to impart his useful knowledge to other youngsters).

But, as noted, the combination of the talent in front and behind the cameras accounts for a mishmash of a movie, with some ancient mythological tales that are not well integrated into the yarn. The so-so scenario tries (but doesn't always succeed) to come up with inventive ways to present the thrilling martial arts acts.

Indeed, the whole enterprise could be seen as an excuse for Chan and Li to first clash and fight and then cooperate and fight. Ultimately, this hodgepodge film is just another commercial enterprise driven by the actors and their respective positions. Jackie Chan has expressed admiration for Jet Li, wishing to work with him on the “right” project. Since both stars are in decline in the global marketplace, “Forbidden Kingdom” offers opportunity to bring the two giants together and hopefully revitalize their careers.