The Forbidden Kingdom Composed by David Buckley
Promo Release (2008)
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Buckley brings his own considerable talent to the project, infusing
more diversity than most Tan Dun scores offer and a degree of
vibrancy that Gregson-Williams seldomly chooses to touch.”
The Keys to the
Kingdom Review by Christopher Coleman
For martial-art film fans, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM has been a dream come
true. Even beyond their prime, Jet Li and Jackie Chan are still tops in
the business. For this Lions Gate release, the two play iconic roles: a
monk and a drunk respectively. They become the co-masters of a young,
displaced Bostonian, Jason Tripitakas. Not only is Jason in the wrong
place, but he's in the wrong time...and universe. The young,
kung-fu-film-fanatic, has come to possess a golden-staff, that legend
says, was once owned by the mythic Monkey King. Before being deceived and
imprisoned by the sinister Jade Warlord, the Monkey King hurled his staff
from his world into ours - awaiting the time when "the chosen one" would
find and return the staff to him; thereby setting him free. Jason begins
his quest with the prized staff in hand and along the way is joined by the
monk, the drunk, and a young girl bent on vengeance against the same Jade
Warlord who murdered her family. THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM doesn't quite live
up to some of Asia's top Wuxia films but is easily the best effort I've
seen come a Hollywood studio in a very long time. It is a
well-rounded film that doesn't take itself too seriously which allows for
a wider palette of emotions than normally expected for such a film.
To keep pace with frenetic action sequences, fantastic settings, romantic
flirtations, and sporadic humor, newcomer-composer, David Buckely was
hired to pen the score.
David Buckley has come a long ways from his days as a choir-boy in the
United Kingdom. Traveling a road that lead through Cambridge University,
as both student and later professor, Buckley longed for more than the
composing of high-brow, post-modern pieces could deliver. Writing scores
for many television documentaries and British commercials, he eventually
connected back with an old acquaintance, composer HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS.
That working relationship lead to THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM for Buckley as
composer with Gregson-Williams as the score's producer. Serendipitously,
it was a rejected piece of music, from another project, that was a key
in opening the door to THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM - a piece that eventually
became a part of this score.
THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM contains satisfying helpings of both Eastern and
Western styles and instrumentation. It is always a treat when a composer
gets this particular blend right and such is the case here. This score is
founded upon a 7-note main theme, which is used to represent each of the
four heroes of the story. Upon closer listening, it becomes clear that
there is some variation of this hero-theme in nearly every track. Some
occurrences are subtle, covertly tucked away amidst more aggressive
instruments, so it's use is hardly overbearing or tiresome. Instead,
Buckley's clever employment keeps the listener, if only subconsciously,
entertainingly engaged with the story and characters from start to finish.
One hardly notices this hero-theme as the erhu performs it at the onset of
track 1 "The Mountain of Fruit & Flowers." In fact, this motif provides the backbone for the
action sequence at the conclusion of the track, as well.
Additionally, we hear the motif reverently plucked on the guzheng in
"J&J Temple Fight" (6). As we progress through the story, the hero-theme
becomes fuller and performed with greater depth until we reach the
pinnacle-performance at the conclusion of track 18 "As One Tale
"In the end, we decided
that the overall tone of the score should not be overtly Chinese.
Rather, it should be something that would be accessible for western
audiences and acceptable to eastern audiences."
While the heroes are each represented by the main theme, there are more
thematic treasures to be found in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. Jason, as
the central figure, has a secondary theme (somewhat akin to the core of
BATMAN BEGINS) that accompanies his more determined, moments of action.
It's heard as early as track 5 "Hops' Shop" and finally in "As
One Tale Ends..." (18). The tragic character of Sparrow is represented by two
additional motifs. The most identifiable is a beautifully bittersweet
melody, which is of a tone that composer Tan Dun mastered in the film
HERO. Doubling as the romantic-line of the score, Sparrow's theme is found
most brilliantly in track 14, "The Seeker of the Prophecy" and track 17 "Her Destiny
was Written." This mythical interpretation of the land of China is given
it's own eloquent theme; heard prominently at both the beginning and end
of the score. In much the way that Tan Dun gave life to the Green Destiny
(sword) in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, David Buckley does for the
magic staff of the Monkey King. A yearning, simple motif played on erhu is
heard throughout the score but most clearly at the onset of "The
Mountain of Fruit & Flowers"
(1) and in "Legend of the Temple Staff" (7).
The villains of the story are represented in equally entertaining fashion.
The Jade Warlord is dually represented by an ominous ascending progression
(see "Battle of the Bride" (16)) and a seductively innocent theme we hear as Jason
finally reaches the Warlord's palace in "The Seeker of the Prophecy" (14). Finally,
one of the biggest surprises in this score comes as Buckley pays homage to Ennio Morricone in his brief statement for the Witch Bride - performed on
the electric guitar (see "Tyranny of War" (10)). This would make the
second such nod to Morricone in recent memory, as Hans Zimmer and company
did so in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END.
Considering the budgetary constraints on THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, both the
director, Rob Minkoff, and composer David Buckley have done an epic job. It
would be oversimplifying things to call THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM a simple
mashup of TAN DUN and HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS, but such a statement would
admittedly have at least a modicum of truth to it. Let it be known though,
that there is much more to appreciate than such a description implies.
What is required for full-appreciation of the composer's handiwork is much
more than a single viewing of the film or even one or two casual listens
of the soundtrack. Composer David Buckley brings his own considerable
talent to the project, infusing more diversity than most Tan Dun score's
offer and a degree of vibrancy that Gregson-Williams seldomly chooses to
touch. There have been a number of notable movie critics and fans alike
who have been pleasantly surprised by THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. I count
myself among them, as well as among those who call this an early, pleasant
surprise of 2008. With this effort, David Buckley has surely found
the keys to the kingdom and will hopefully be a fixture in the film music
world for many years to come.
*On May 11, 2008 - A new track was added for the
potential release. "Monkey Business" has been inserted as a track 3.
Also, several track titles have been renamed. The original track
titles are listed just below the revised. At the time of the
authoring of this review, negotiations for an official release are nearing
completion. Stay tuned for more information on a release date.
The Mountain of
Fruit & Flowers
The Legend of the Temple Staff
Two Tigers - Two Masters
Tea House Fight
The Tyranny of War
Don't Forget to Breath
Ni Chang & Her Cult Killers
Drunken Master Wounded
The Seeker of the Prophecy
Let the Journey Begin
Battle of the Bride
Her Destiny Was Written
As One Tale Ends...
...Another Tale Begins
Total Running Time (approx)
Former Track Listing and Titles
1 - The Dream
2 - The Peach Banquet
3 - China Begins
4 - Boston, China Town
5 - Temple Fight
6 - The Legend of the Staff
7 - Two Tigers
8 - Tea House Fight
9 - The Tryanny of War
10 - Don't Forget to Breath
11 - Peach Blossom Battle
12 - Drunken Master Wounded
13 - Boy Becomes Man
14 - Heroes Enter
15 - Bride Fight
16 - Her Destiny Was Written
17 - China Ends
18 - Kung Fu Legends