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3 ½ Stars: An Unnecessary Remake But Proved To Be Quite Entertaining!
on June 16, 2010
2010's remake of 1984's "Karate Kid" has been titled different in different countries. Director Harald Zwart's film was called `The Kung Fu Kid" in China, "The Best Kid" in Japan and South Korea while U.S. audiences are stuck to the original film's title "The Karate Kid". My first complaint with the film's title is that why call a film "Karate Kid" when it is clearly about a teen who learns Kung Fu and yet it is called "Karate Kid"; I thought this was the usual Hollywood garbage and it would be a slap in the face of the Chinese martial arts since the title is so misleading. Chinese Kung Fu is filled with circular movements that are derived from the movements of animals. Japan's Karate is a more linear art that is meant to finish an opponent with one blow, and to fight numerous opponents. Yet, with Jackie Chan in a the role of Pat Morita, I had hope that the film would give respect to the Chinese martial art and I was not disappointed.
This film is not related to the DC comics character with the same name. The film's association with 1984's original "Karate Kid" is the mere fact that it captures the same premise, same key plot sequences but it has different characters and a different backdrop (this time the film takes place in China). I would say that it is not a remake but more of a re-issue; and thanks to Jackie Chan, he makes the film very credible in a dramatic role. (Yes, in Asia, Chan isn't just known for his action-comedies, he is a well-respected singer and dramatic actor)
11-year old Dre (Jaden Smith) and his mom (Taraji Parker) locates to China because of the demands of her job. A stranger in a foreign land, and without friends, Dre becomes fond of a sweet Chinese girl named Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han) but this infatuation leads to him being bullied by a young practitioner of Kung Fu named Cheng (Zhenwei Wang). The situation escalates and Dre ends up being defended by Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the maintenance man in their place of dwelling who is also a kung fu master. Han advises that Dre needs to settle things with Cheng through his sensei, Master Li (Rongguang Yu) but the two soon discovers that he is every bit as hard headed and arrogant as Cheng. Forced to barter to be allowed to leave without incident, Han agrees to the stipulation that Dre will fight Cheng and his whole gang one-on-one in a Kung Fu tournament. Dre only has little over a month to train under Mr. Han; student must learn from the teacher as the teacher also becomes the student. The two begin to form a strange bond as they meet their antagonists head on to defend their honor...
The charm of the original was the fact that Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) was just so charismatic as the Karate master. Chan matches Morita's charm in every way possible and proves to be quite convincing as the aging Kung Fu master. Instead of the wax on, wax off, paint the fence and sand the floor type of thing, Mr. Han opts to have Dre train by taking off his jacket, hanging it, putting it on, dropping it, and then hanging it again. It does make a good transition in the script seeing as Dre is a slob and is always leaving his jacket on the floor. Martial arts is a way of life after all, and a practitioner of the art embraces its philosophy as well as its movements; it becomes a way of life. The film does manage to establish a credible relationship between the two and Mr. Han as with Mr. Miyagi in the original also had his demons to face.
I guess what the original had that this remake didn't was the fact that it was realistic. Daniel (the original character) was a weakling and didn't have the savvy to become a very capable fighter in month. Miyagi gave him the tools he needed to face his tormentors; Daniel could never become a warrior, but he had the quality moves and heart to win over his opponents. This time around, this remake takes a little cartoonish route, as Dre becomes a capable fighter in a month; displaying the skills and movements that equal his opponents who had been practicing the art for a lot longer time; Dre didn't feel like an underdog but rather a competitor with equal skill--in a month. I had a hard time buying into this, I cannot believe that a student who had no exposure to Kung Fu can pull off a final move that he observed but never really taught. Daniel was a better character than Dre. The supporting characters are also a little cartoonish. Dre's mother does have more screen time and develops a relationship with Han which was good. I also liked the fact that the script settles for a theme of friendship between Dre and Mei, rather than the teen love between Daniel and Ali. This was a good change, as the film also pays respect to Chinese culture. The relationship between Han and Dre was developed well, but then, with Jackie Chan, it is easy to have an attachment to his character. However, Smith wasn't totally convincing and he felt a little too whiny; I can forgive this since he is only 11 years old in the film.
The fights were nicely executed and I was impressed with the quality of the choreography. Cheng and the other young Chinese fighters were real convincing in pulling off those complex moves. The hits looked like they were actually making contact and the camera work was kept tight with some flashy use of slow motion and clever editing. There were some wire fu included in the fights, but they weren't that obvious; Chan and company did their work well. Oh, as with the Daniel's Crane Kick, Dre develops his own signature move; and it was very cool. The cinematography was stellar as the viewer becomes privy to the slums of the country as well as its beauty. The scene when Han and Dre traveled to the temple atop the mountaintop was breathtaking, and there is a very cool scene with a mysterious woman (a Michelle Yeoh look-alike) who entrances a cobra.
So the question remains: Is this film a worthy remake? Well, it is, as it does pay homage to the original and a lot of the key scenes was more or less a tribute. This does render the film a little too predictable so those who loved the original will find this remake very unnecessary. I am one of those people, but despite its flaws, I have to admit the film was very entertaining that it did establish the differences between the Chinese art to the Japanese art, as well as paying reverence to both martial arts systems. The film does make it clear: "It's not karate". It does have a lesson to share, while it is not as memorable as the original; it was still quite germane in today's times.
Recommended Timidly. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]