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Subtle symbols

Movies | The Forbidden Kingdom may give some parents pause

Issue: "Food fight," May 3, 2008

Christian film critics often walk a fine line between exercising discernment and reading too much into things. Take The Forbidden Kingdom, a mythical martial arts movie that pairs Jet Li and Jackie Chan, for example.

Aimed squarely at the 8- to 15-year-old demographic, most of the objectionable content in the story of a teenage outsider who wakes up in a world of Chinese legend is pretty easily captured by its PG-13 rating. Some of the combat scenes get a bit violent; drunkenness is played for comic effect; and I noted a few profanities and one bit of lewd wordplay that went by so fast I doubt anyone but an eagle-eyed Christian critic would have caught it.

Going solely by that tally, many parents would find The Forbidden Kingdom acceptable for older children. But what's not so easy to pin down is whether other, subtler elements should give parents pause.

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When an underling tells the evil Jade Warlord that a boy from a strange land has the people talking of prophecy, his response is that the people always talk of prophecy because it's their opium. Obviously the exchange is a reference to Karl Marx's pronouncement that religion is the opiate of the masses. But is it included to echo that belief or refute it?

What was director Rob Minkoff's intention when he had the narrator state that the main character is starting on a new path to find "his own truth"? Is this Hollywood championing relativism, or is it just lazy writing? Same goes with Buddhist and Taoist references sprinkled throughout: a cheap way to create Asian ambience (since neither is treated with any depth), or something more?

Is the cross that hangs prominently around the neck of a brutish thug in the real world meant to suggest something about Christianity and oppression? Or is it merely an embarrassing stereotype of a South Boston Catholic to go along with the actor's embarrassingly bad South Boston accent?

It's hard to say for sure. So in this case, it's probably advisable for the people who know their kids best-mom or dad-to give the movie a prescreening to decide how their child will interpret it.

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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