Monday, November 8, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

Directed by Harald Zwart.
2010. Rated PG, 140 minutes.
Jaden Smith
Jackie Chan
Taraji P. Henson
Wenwen Han
Zhenwei Wang
Rongguang Yu
Zhensu Wu
Zhiheng Wang

Tre (Smith) moves to China with his mom (Henson) after her job transfers her abroad. Practically soon as he steps off the plane, he takes a shine to one of the local girls. Of course, this puts him at odds with the neighborhood bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his cronies. Yes, this is a remake of the 1984 hit movie of the same name.

While maintaining the framework of the original, this one branches far enough out to stand on its own. The wise teacher, love story, evil teacher with a “no mercy” policy and angry young bully are all in place, yet it feels like a fresh approach. A contributing factor is the change in location from California to China. Another is the change in age groups from near adults to middle-schoolers. These changes work to create something essentially the same, but somehow different, if that makes any sense.

This version has something else going in its favor over the original. Some of you may stop reading after the next sentence, just a warning. Jaden Smith is a better karate kid than Ralph Macchio. I realize the blasphemy I’ve just committed, but I’ll drive on. Little Will seems to be the better athlete and actor, pulling off the role easier than “Danielsan”. It helps that he has many of his dad’s qualities, including a natural charm. Admittedly, he can occasionally become annoying, as most kid actors do, but it’s an overall better performance, in my very humble opinion.

In the mentor role, Jackie Chan is also excellent. As Mr. Han, he gives what is probably the finest performance of his career, to date. It’s a far cry from the laugh, make a stupid face, run and fight while performing acrobatics routine most of his work consists of. Here, he conveys real emotions and wisdom. Granted, it’s not quite up to the same level of other-worldly awesomeness as Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi, but it’s not as far off as you would think going in. I’ll also admit that hanging and picking up the jacket is a lot more of stretch to translate into a fighting style than “wax on, wax off.” Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

For me, a remake should retell the story of the original in its own way while maintaining what people liked about the original. It shouldn’t update its predecessor needlessly, but in ways the contemporary audience relates to. The 2010 version of TKK does this. People tend to forget, or ignore, that the 1984 version is really just a martial arts reimagining of Rocky. For that reason, even though I always liked it I feel it is overrated. The remake is rare in that it’s at least on equal footing with the movie it remakes. Duck, more blasphemy coming. I think its better, as a movie at least. Still, the original has the advantage of being a cultural phenomenon. Since it is, I can already feel many ill-intended glares from the disbelieving eyes that just read this.

MY SCORE: 7/10

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