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Variety Review
 Forbidden Warrior

From its bloodless fight scenes to its corny title, "Forbidden Warrior" is part "Star Wars," part wuxia epic and all high-spirited hokum.

Shot in Los Angeles and populated by Asian and Caucasian actors in roughly equal measure, generic but not unlikable martial-arts fantasy plays like a throwback to the Saturday afternoon serials of old - right down to its deliberately unresolved ending. Pic is the first of a planned trilogy, although whether it can sustain enough interest to spawn two sequels remains to be seen. As befits its TV serial roots, "Forbidden Warrior" might just prove most effective, and lucrative, on video.

In the distant past in an unspecified Asian country, the rival kingdoms of English-speaking warlords Muraji (James Hong) and Khan (Woon Yung Park) are duking it out for control of an unspecified region. Legend prophesies that one of the warring clans will give birth to the Chosen One. He alone will be able to read the all-powerful spells inscribed in the Gaia Za, which will in turn empower one of the families to set up a ruling dynasty.

When Khan receives word that Muraji's son, Miyamoto (Bruce Locke), and his wife, Hana (Minglie Chen), are expecting a child, he sends a group of assassins to slaughter them in the cave where they have taken refuge. Hana is killed, but not before giving birth to a baby girl, Seki. The child is quickly bundled and sent floating downstream, Moses-style, into the care of the sorcerer Ajis-Aka (Tony Amendola), a blind old sage whose brown robes and meditative air all but scream Obi-Wan Kenobi.

A messianic fable with a feminist twist, pic borrows from influences as varied as "Sleeping Beauty," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers," cobbling together a world where swordsmanship and sorcery command more or less equal respect. After several years of intense training, Seki (a radiant Marie Matiko) becomes adept at both swordsmanship and sorcery.

Finally learning that Miyamoto's child is still alive, Khan commissions his two sons, the evil, bloodthirsty Locust (Karl Yune) and kindhearted black sheep DJ (Sung Kang, unrecognizable from his role as a taciturn slouch in "Better Luck Tomorrow"), to find and imprison the Chosen One, so that "he" can be forced to translate the Gaia Za.

Plenty of martial hijinks ensue when a third party, the marauding Lank (Ron Yuan, who also choreographed the action) and his band of pirate thugs also decide to seek out Seki, whose skill at sorcery has made her something of a legend. Rather flatfooted comic relief is provided by DJ's traveling companions, Tall Tall (Vladimir Cuk), Jibberish (Chris Coppola) and the ingratiating but treacherous Mouse (Homie Doroodian).

Despite the secondhand love story and at times cringe-worthy dialogue, helmer and longtime stunt coordinator Jimmy Nickerson's earnest, old-fashioned approach is more endearing than off-putting. Best of all, pic has a real sense of humor about its own slapdash narrative.

Combat sequences, though not always coherently shot, are very ably staged. Lensing is somewhat inconsistent, resorting to shaky handheld camerawork for the fight scenes while bathing everything else in gauzy soft focus.

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