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Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

This article was published on the original Sorry I’m Late.com on 14/07/10.

The Karate Kid

Before I start, I need to address what has to be possibly the most misleading film title since The Never Ending Story (or maybe Snatch); the remake of retro 80’s staple The Karate Kid does not contain any semblance of Karate! Forgetting the passive racism – the film is set in China (home of the Kung Fu used in the movie), whereas Karate originates from Japan – it is obviously a ploy to lure audiences to a household brand-name despite all logic and common sense. Either way, it’s pretty poor form from the producers (Big Willie Style!) and another prime example of Hollywood once again patronizing the film-going public.

But now it’s time to take my rage cap off and review this bastard…

He knows never to touch a black man’s radio.

This new take on the Karate Kid sees the action shift from the USA to China, where 12-year-old Dre (Smith) and his mother (Henson) move to begin a new life. Now a fish out of water, the formerly over-confident Dre has to come to grips with living in a foreign land: the language, the customs, weird pre-teen crushes and getting beaten on a regular basis up by a thug of adolescent Wushu upstarts. In steps humble maintenance man – and Kung Fu guru – Mr. Han (Chan): In failing to make peace with Dre’s tormentors and their eeevil teacher, he begins the long journey to teach Dre not only the martial arts to defeat his foes, but the life lessons to help him come to grips with his personal relationships and new surroundings.

For just a 12-year-old actor, Jaden Smith needs a lot of praise for his work in carrying this picture, as he definitely has that certain aura, charisma and swagger of his daddy The Fresh Prince. A little too much, in fact, as I spent a majority of this flick enjoying this precocious little turd getting his ass kicked on a consistent basis. Add in the fact that he looks smaller than the other kids his age; which makes all those training montages of a shirtless and sweaty Jaden Smith dead-set pedo fodder. But as a general rule I love training montages and despite the glistening child involved, they were still pretty sweet.

The true breakthrough is Jackie Chan − in what I believe is his first Hollywood dramatic role – and man, does he bring the goods! No doubt due to his age and years of physical abuse, his usual shenanigans are kept to a brief – and bitchin’ – fight sequence in which he fights some thugs without actually fighting them. Finally we get to see Chan’s acting chops more than his Karate ones, and although English is still clearly his second language (“Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”), it’s the emotion that he evokes that is captivating.

The film is too long – waaaaay too long, a gruelling 140 minutes. It would run better on a tighter edit, and condensing the love plot – which takes up a fair amount of screen time – would be in the movie’s favour: Seriously, they’re 12 – it’s not like they’re getting married.

As far as re-imagining goes, I did like a few of the different interpretations: such as replacing house-painting and ‘wax-on, wax-off’ with hanging up a jacket and taking it back off again. Although I am vehemently against the ‘jokey’ nod to catching the fly with chopsticks, which I feel passed on an integral message thematically.

While the fight sequences built up nice and slowly, once we reached the climactic tournament the action had gradually morphed into something cartoonish – straight out of Tekken. In, I guess necessary, changes in the final act, ‘sweeping the leg’ has been upgraded to ‘brutalizing the fuck out of the leg’ and the iconic crane kick has been replaced by more of a Pele kick as performed by wrestler du jour AJ Styles, or Tekken’s Eddie Gordo.

In the end, despite a terrific performace by Jackie Chan and a super-annoying protagonist in Smith, The Karate Kid was not the abortion that I expected, and does a nifty job of updating elements of the 1984 original (which, to be fair, is no masterpiece).

– Jackie Chan with a performance to make Pat Morita proud.
– The final tournament is pretty sweet, if over the top.
– Nostalgia FTW.

– It’s crazy long.
– If I hear Higher Ground by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in another movie I’m gonna kill someone.
– I shouldn’t enjoy the severe beating of the protagonist.

– The Karate Kid (1984)
– Kung Fu Panda (2008)
– Never Back Down (2008)
– The Next Karate Kid (1994) 🙂

Directed by: Harald Zwart
Written by:
 Christopher Murphey (original story by Robert Mark Kamen)
Produced by: 
Jerry Weintraub, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Lassiter, Ken Stovitz
Starring:
 Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson
Distributed by: 
Columbia Pictures
Run length:
 140 minutes
Australian Release: 
08 July 2010
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