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Just came back from watching The Forbidden Kingdom. My initial reaction is that this movie met my expectations—predictable plot filled with fortune cookie dialogue of the cheese variety that’s filled with some pretty good action sequences. However, I must admit that this movie also surprisingly had some well thought out and delivered jokes. Now for a more in depth movie review or plot summaries, please visit Rotten Tomato and IMBD.

Meanwhile, on to the case study!

If you have watched any of the movie trailers or have seen any of the promotional posters plastered on billboards and buses in the past two months, you are likely to believe that this is strictly a martial arts film starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li. But don’t be fooled, that’s just what the movie’s marketing team wants you to believe.

You see, if you have watched the movie’s original trailer (also see below), you would have known long ago that this is actually an Alice in Wonderland story about white American boy who travels back to ancient China where he become the reluctant hero on a LOTR type quest.

In my personal and professional opinion (i.e. this is just speculation as I don’t work for Lions Gate), I think that the marketing team quickly realized that enough people (both martial arts movie buffs and lay people) who saw the first trailer didn’t know what to think about the movie’s main character and plot. While there was not an overwhelmingly volatile sentiment or any newsworthy controversy against the film or the film makers, the people who watched the trailer were obviously perplexed. Here are few blog examples with some interesting reader comments:

So to prevent their most profitable market (though obviously not the film’s target audience which is arguably children and fantasy fans) from being alienated from the film, the marketing team hauled ass to prepare some bad-ass trailers and posters to focus on the film’s headliners and their martial arts skills. See below for exhibit A and exhibit B:

Exhibit A: Movie Poster

Exhibit B: Movie Trailer

Here’s the full trailer #2, which starts to move the focus away from the American boy in ancient China plot while only referring to him as the “lost traveler” among the rag-tag band of misfits out to stop an evil warlord.

Here’s a TV spots edited from trailer #2, which has completely eliminated the American boy entirely from the trailer’s plot summary and images. They pretty much lead you to believe that you are going to watch a martial arts epic like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers.

On anther note, I also suspect that the opening sequence in the actual movie that takes place in modern times was edited significantly. This was probably done when the film makers realized that no body cares about the boy’s back story or his participation in the film. So in order for the movie to get to ancient China quicker, much of the scenes in modern times that were featured in the first trailer were cut. Coincidence? I think not.

So, did it work? Well based on my observations at the office and at the theater, this crazy idea just may have done its job…..

  • At the office: In passing I heard that someone, whose self-proclaims to be “really into those martial arts action movies” was planning to see the movie with a group of friends and then grab dinner. In response, a second person said, oh you mean like “Crouching Tiger”? I love those movies! My thoughts…..”Boy, oh boy, is this person in for a surprise!”
  • At the theater: It was packed. Granted, it’s opening night, so its not that surprising; however, its interesting to note that a good percentage of them looked like the martial arts film buffs and were Asian/Asian American. When the opening scene cut from the Monkey King fighting sequence to American boy getting out of bed in modern times, I heard a quiet but collective “What the F*ck! Are we in the right theater?” Clearly, the marketing team was successful in misleading some of these people to buy tickets….which of course forces them to continue watching in order to get their money’s worth.

But its hard to tell with the movie only having been out for one day. Guess we’ll have to wait on the weekend box office numbers to know for sure.

UPDATE: It’s official. The Forbidden Kingdom is the #1 movie in America (all thanks to some rather smart, though very misleading promotional materials from the marketing team). Though as MikeMai also points out in his comment below, the editing team should also be commended for making some very wise choices to make this movie more “acceptable” to those of us who were tricked into watching it.

My only hope is that this doesn’t become the new Hollywood formula for martial arts action movies (i.e. Send a present-day American kid back to ancient Asia to become the savior to the Asian people). It would be a revival of the Karate Kid saga all over again…..once was enough…please!