The Karate Kid
Your enjoyment of The Karate Kid
will depend on your tolerance for watching 12-year-olds
beat the snot out of each other. At times, director Harald
Zwart ratchets up the fighting and good vs. evil overacting
that it seems a done deal that someone will end up with
a lost face and a broken neck.
But then I remembered that that was actually
Rocky IV, an installment in a different predictable
but fun '80's franchise. For those who actually are
12, the plot of The Karate Kid will be utterly unpredictable,
because you've seen very few of the movies that influenced
it, such as The Karate Kid, The Karate Kid 2,
The Karate Kid 3 or The Next Karate Kid.
If it seems like I'm not putting much effort
into writing this review, it's because screenwriter Christopher
Murphey didn't put much into his script. Not only does the
movie acknowledge that no actual karate is in it without
explaining how you can then call it the name of a DC Comics
character (still attributed in the credits), it's so rote
with its plot points that it doesn't even bother anchoring
them to the story.
Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) has a dark secret?
A lesser movie would waste time hinting that it existed
before revealing it. This one has to find an excuse to show
off major landmarks in China.
Yet at times this bloated remake (no kids'
movie should clock at 140 minutes) still has charms, like
there's a leaner, more entertaining version dying to break
out. Most of that can be attributed to the growing charisma
of Jaden Smith, being groomed to be his father, and the
easy-going natural star quality of Chan. Together, they
can almost overcome any leaden obstacle thrown in their
path, including the requirement of being a partial travelogue.
The change of locale to Beijing from Los
Angeles doesn't change the flavor of the plot. Dre (Smith)
doesn't just feel like a fish out of water; he's got a language
barrier and some cultural issues that his creeping pubescence
makes him clearly unable to overcome. When he consistently
runs afoul of some bullies, Dre finds an unlikely ally in
his apartment's superintendent, Mr. Han.
Of course, the bullies all train at an
evil martial arts dojo, and Han believes that kung fu -
not karate - is actually about avoiding violence. Hard for
that belief to carry much weight when your opponent's motto
ends with "No mercy." To buy Dre some time, Han agrees to
train him on the proviso that everything gets solved at
the big martial arts tournament conveniently but mysteriously
open only to 12 year olds.
There's also sweet young violinist Meiying
(Wenwen Han) to provide friendship that blurs with romance
and cause even more culture clash. Luckily, Smith has enough
charisma to melt an angry's father heart merely by memorizing
a few humble phrases in Chinese.
Kids should be fascinated by the snapshots
of Chinese culture, including the Forbidden City and, somewhat
improbably, the Great Wall. The film even travels to a monastery
which kids should recognize as similar to that in Kung
Fu Panda. Notice not Karate Panda.
On the other hand, this love letter to
all the beauty of Chinese culture skirts around some uglier
realities. While we see lots of boys at Dre's school, they
far outnumber the girls. And there sure are a lot of friendly
soldiers standing guard, especially when Dre and Meiying
frolic around Tianmen Square.
not meant to be terribly deep, just entertaining (hence
the inclusion of a Justin Bieber song over the end credits).
And The Karate Kid is also a gift from Jaden's mom
and dad to him. It might have made sense to have an older
kid in the role of Dre, but then the movie wouldn't have
been able to maintain the sense of innocence it now has.
Ultimately it's nothing that hasn't been
seen before at least four times. But it's about time that
kids get introduced to these plot tropes, and if they won't
learn to wax on and wax off this time around, at least they
will feel some motivation to hang up their jackets.