REVIEW: The Karate Kid
Previously on (I’m) Not a Fanboy, Vol. 1:
You remember the Karate Kid remake that came out earlier this year? It starred Jackie Chan and Will Smith’s son. When posters started going up and I started seeing trailers around town, I told all my friends that it actually looked like a really good movie. Everybody told me I was an idiot–how could that movie possibly be any good? It’s a totally soulless remake of an 80s classic that I like, grew up on, dood! And Will Smith basically bought his son the part! People told me I entirely missed the point there. Ebert gave it three and a half stars. I’m starting to think that the people who missed the point of remaking a movie are the people who will deride any remake regardless of quality, simply because it’s a remake.
I never ended up seeing The Karate Kid (2010). Maybe that was my loss.
And now, the conclusion.
Yeah, it’s pretty good.
I’m entirely unfamiliar with the Ralph Macchio/Mr. Miyagi/Kobra Kai version of The Karate Kid. People like to tell me I’m missing out on something when I mention I haven’t seen that movie. I’d like to remind you of my review of The Fighter, wherein I expressed disdain for happy ending sports movies. That was really a bit of a lie, though. I’m as much a sucker for happy-ending sports movies as the rest of you, but they have to be done well. They have to be done well enough as to be both believable and meaningful when the protagonist wins the final match. Sorry if I just gave away the ending to Karate Kid, but it came out in 1984. Come on.
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is a twelve year old kid from Detroit whose father died a few years before the movie takes place. His mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) works at an unspecified auto manufacturer–the kind of auto manufacturer that up and relocates some of its employees to China as a “transfer”. Yes, Jersey became Detroit and California turned to China, the hero and his mom are black and the love interest is now Chinese. Let’s say that the 21st century is nothing if not aggressively politically correct. The shots of Chinese landscapes are beautiful; breathtaking, fog-shrouded vistas of untouched and unspoiled land. That’s sorta grimy anyway cos that’s what happens when you film in China.
Sure enough, when Dre gets to China, he’s viciously bullied by local boys who know kung fu for trying to flirt with a local girl (Mei Ying, played by Wenwen Han) while she’s practicing violin. So Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his buddies viciously assault him all around China while Dre has to deny it to his mother. Eventually, during one of these beatings, the building’s handyman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) steps in and makes six kids beat each other up with defensive kung fu. Dre sees this and asks Han to teach him how to fight so he can defend himself from Cheng. Of course, Mr. Han uses this opportunity to teach young Dre real kung fu, including lessons on respecting his mother, wooing Mei Ying and generally becoming a better person. Along the way, there are a couple sweet montages and a couple cute moments and a couple cool fight scenes, along with a lot of training that doesn’t seem like training. Karate Kid.
I’ve always liked Jackie Chan. A lot of people like to tell me that I’m wrong to do so. He’s a charming man, a great comedian and a fantastic martial artist. He’s one of the few actors I’ve seen who can imbue character into the kung fu. Most actors who are also skilled martial artists just do the kung fu in their own style. Their own style is often fantastic–Jet Li, for example, being one of the cleanest and best modern martial arts actors today. But Jackie Chan, especially as Mr. Han, has found a way to communicate a deep loss and regret in every movement of his body. His Mr. Han is a wise man, inhibited by a deep loss earlier in his life. Even in early scenes, you can see the caution around everything, as though engaging too deeply with the outside world will only bring pain. And yes, he communicates that in kung fu.
There was a lot of controversy in my circle of friends about Will Smith’s son Jaden taking the lead role of Dre. It was said that he was bought the part or that Mr. and Mrs. Smith made the movie just to make their son a star. If I may say right now, Jaden Smith is a talented young actor. He’s no Hailee Steinfeld, but he’s competent. There’s a young actor early on in the piece who has two lines. I don’t know if he was somebody’s nephew or if he won a contest for a walk-on part, but he’s so endearingly bad. It’s almost like he’s unintentionally reminding you of what child actors usually are. Smith, on the other hand, is talented enough to carry this film. He isn’t brilliant, but he’s not a ham. I look forward to his later career–Will Smith grew up big time from his early career, and might start making good science fiction movies soon.
The question is: should I have seen this in theaters? And the answer is yes. I do regret not seeing this in theaters, despite several issues plaguing the production. Its pop soundtrack and original soundtrack by James Horner don’t mesh well, leaving several scenes feeling out of place. It’s almost infuriatingly slow to start at 24 minutes longer than the original Ralph Macchio version and all I could think watching the first act was “hey, this could be about 24 minutes shorter”. The sidekick character who shows up at the beginning to introduce Dre to China and Chinese culture drops off the radar the moment Dre starts training with Han. But all of these are minor complaints that get washed away when you sit through the whole thing.
It’s a good movie. That should really be all we care about. So if you haven’t seen it yet, you might as well try it. THREE AND A HALF STARS