Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Some First Reviews are Out for The Karate Kid

I am going to highlight bits within each review and comment at the end.

Movie Review: Despite new setting, remake of 'The Karate Kid' follows all the same moves

By Christy Lemire (CP) – 3 hours ago

Fellow children of the '80s: Merely pondering the possibility of a "Karate Kid" remake tears at the very fiber of our adolescence.

No one else needs to say the words "wax on-wax off" ever again. No teen bully could possibly be as slickly menacing as Billy Zabka. And as climactic showdown songs go, nothing could beat the cliched bombast of "You're the Best Around." (Now it'll be stuck in your head the rest of the day, just like it's stuck in mine. You're welcome.)

Sure, John G. Avildsen's original 1984 movie was formulaic, but it was OUR formula. There was no doubt Daniel-San was ever going to lose to rich, arrogant Johnny, leader of the Cobra Kai, in the finals of the big karate tournament. But that was OK. He had heart on his side — and the crane kick. Avildsen also directed "Rocky," so he knew a little something about playing up the underdog theme for maximum emotional impact. We were sucked in despite ourselves.

Nevertheless, a new version of "The Karate Kid" is upon us. Director Harald Zwart ("Agent Cody Banks") hits all the same notes and adheres closely to Robert Mark Kamen's original script, down to a sweep-the-leg moment in the finale. Details have been tweaked in Christopher Murphey's new script, including the setting: Instead of moving from New Jersey to Los Angeles because of his single mom's new job, our young hero moves from Detroit to Beijing, where he promptly incurs the wrath of the local thugs and learns martial arts to protect himself. (And by the way, it's now kung fu.)

But one of the biggest changes of all is the character's age.

Ralph Macchio was what, like, 35 when he played Daniel? But he looked 16, as his character was, so he seemed like a good fit. Now the character, Dre, is 12 — as is the film's star, Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada (both executive producers). But with his pretty face and slight build, Smith looks about 9. It's inescapably distracting. And so neither the fighting nor the romance with a girl who's out of his league — two key components of "The Karate Kid" — makes sense.

Even after the obligatory training montage, Smith is still a tiny, lean kid. Macchio didn't exactly bulk up, but he had an attitude about him, an East Coast swagger, that helped make his transformation into a karate master believable. Plus it's just uncomfortable watching kids this age beat each other up to the point of serious injury; there's no one to root for in that.

Still, we must watch Dre go through the motions of learning from Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the handyman in the building where he and his mother, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) now live.

Dre hates it in China — doesn't understand the language, can't use chopsticks, etc. — but when he meets a pretty violinist named Mei Ying in the park, he's smitten. School bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) doesn't like this development, though, and goes on a mission to make Dre's life even more hellish than it already was. Enter Mr. Han, who not only fights off Dre's enemies, he heals the boy's injuries and puts him through his own peculiar training regimen.

We all know where this is headed: The Big Tournament. But first, "The Karate Kid" stops at the Great Wall and the Forbidden City — you know, just because they're picturesque — which contribute to the movie's overlong running time. Still, Chan is solid in an extremely different role, one that's much more serious and understated than his well-known, playful persona. All the trademark acrobatics are there, but without the cheerful mugging. After decades on screen, it's refreshing to see Chan shift gears like this.

Functioning in the Mr. Miyagi role, Chan also has decent chemistry with Smith. But things are awkward between Smith and Wenwen Han, the Chinese version of Elisabeth Shue's Ali-with-an-I. Their ages, her shy demeanour, her English (which is sometimes hard to understand) — all these factors conspire against them, and the film.

The ending is still rousing enough to make the film a crowd-pleaser, though. But after this, hopefully some '80s classics like "Sixteen Candles," ''Better Off Dead" and "Revenge of the Nerds" will remain off-limits.

"The Karate Kid," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language. Running time: 135 minutes. Two stars out of four.


I must admit that the issue of age in this film has bothered me since the beginning. I could not (and still cannot) see how they can cast an 11 yr old effectively in this part. There are aspects of the film such as the romance and the passions it arouses that are just not believable with characters in that age set but then I am being guilty of comparing it with the original. I am pleased how many people are noting how good Jackie is in the part. I had hoped that this movie would do that for him since the beginning (yes I have had a mixed emotions - part of me screamed NO NO NO and part screamed YES YES YES). Who knows if this is also a role worthy of an Oscar nomination as it was for Pat Morita as so many other factors such as what other movies are in the running play a part - but at very least I am hoping this part changes perceptions about Jackie's acting.

‘Karate Kid’ kicks high

While it’s strange to call a film “Karate Kid” when there is none of the famous Japanese martial arts in it, an issue over its title can’t bring the enjoyable and inspiring remake of the classic movie down.

The 2010 “Karate Kid” borrows some plot lines from the well-loved 1984 version and added a new flavor to it -- Chinese, to be exact. Jaden Smith is Dre Parker, a 12-year old kid who unwillingly moves with his mother (Taraji Henson) to China. By some twist of fate (and of his arms and legs because of school bullying), Dre finds himself learning martial arts under maintenance man-slash-Kung Fu master, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), in order to earn the respect of those mistreating him.

Unlike the previously released “Sex and the City 2,” the Harald Zwart-directed flick is culture-friendly, showing the historic country’s way of life and presenting the basics and philosophies of Kung Fu in a way that is accessible and appreciable.

Jaden clearly inherited the genes of his parents, Jada and Will, who happen to be two of the movie’s producers, exhibiting acting prowess with dedication and conviction that make his portrayal respectable in its own right. And everytime he shows off his fierce karate skills, he looks like a pro who has been doing it for the longest time. Plus, movie heroes-in-the-making always have cute chicks on their side, and for Jaden, it’s Mei Ying (Han Wen Wen), the sweet violinist. Their young love story was a fictional testament that cultural differences can be overcome.

The film is also another avenue for Jackie not only to showcase his martial arts skills but also to show his dramatic side. The film icon exposed two sides of his character: intense as a teacher, but tender as a father figure to Dre, who had lost his dad early on. His tandem with Jaden is rousing, at times funny, but overall, has the gentle punch particularly for fathers and sons.

We get it that this is a remake, but it’s just a bit distracting to hear popular songs played almost all over the film, like Jay Sean’s “Do You Remember?”, John Mayer’s “Say,” Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” and Flo Rida’s “Low.” Sometimes when a song is all-too familiar, it takes away the audience from the scene instead of pulling them into it.

The two-and-a-half-hour running time is quite acceptable considering the story was not just about Kung Fu as a skill, but Kung Fu as the journey to self-discovery, of facing one’s fears and fighting for peace.


See another positive comment for Jackie's acting in this one. I will ignore the error over Jaden's "karate skills" - ITS KUNG FU!!


Twelve-year-old actor Jaden Smith, who previously starred alongside his father, Will Smith, in the worldwide hit “The Pursuit of Happyness,” now takes the star reigns himself, headlining Columbia Pictures’ new action adventure “The Karate Kid.”

In the film, Dre Parker (Smith) could have been the most popular kid in Detroit, but his mother’s (Taraji P. Henson) career takes them both to China. Dre has a hard time making friends at first but he does make a connection with his classmate Mei Ying – and the feeling is mutual – until cultural differences make such a friendship impossible. Even worse, Dre makes an enemy of the class bully, Cheng.

Feeling alone in a foreign land, Dre has no friends to turn to except the maintenance man, Mr. Han (Chan). Secretly a master of kung fu, Mr. Han and Dre begin to train together, building a friendship and moving toward a final showdown with Cheng at a kung fu tournament. As Han teaches Dre that kung fu is not about punches and parries, but maturity and calm, Dre learns that facing down the bullies will be the fight of his life.

Q: Were you a fan of the original Karate Kid?
A: Yes, I was. I thought it was cool. It’s old but it’s still really good, it’s like how Avatar will be in like 20 years (laughs).

Q: What was it like being in China?
A: Great, it’s really interesting. They have so many cool things especially where we were staying – they have The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, so many things. On our first day in China I went to an amusement park and we were racing in these cars. I wish I could speak the language though. I remember we were at the amusement park and these guys were yelling at us and I had no idea what they were saying, they just started yelling for some reason. It was like ‘why are they yelling?’

Q: Let’s talk about your training with Master Wu. What was that like?
A: Great. It was three months before, four months during the shoot and I’m training again now, I have to leave here and then go to him. There was a lot of training and at one point we really didn’t think we would have enough time to learn it. And you know, on set we would have a few little accidents. OK I admit it - I got hit like once! (laughs) But you have to make some contact otherwise it doesn’t work. And if you are going to hit someone and they are meant to block the blow and they don’t, well they are going to get hit in the face. So they need to block it.

Q: What happened when you were hit?
A: I remember we were doing this scene and there was this guy who was shouting at me and I had to be really scared and he strikes out at me and I was meant to block it. I put my head the other way and I got hit in the face once and in the ribs once – but the ribs was actually part of the scene. I actually thought my nose was bleeding, but it wasn’t.

Q: Do you think you’re good at kung fu now?
A: Yeah, I’m better than I was before, like 400 percent. 400 percent better than I was at the beginning.


Q: Dre gets bullied at his new school in China. What do you think about bullies?
A: I think bullies are like not cool (laughs). But I’ve never been bullied because I’ve always known how to fight my whole life because I’ve been doing karate since I’ve been like three and so bullies never have really bothered me. And the schools I’ve gone to haven’t really had physical bullies; they would have mean people, but like not physical bullies.

Q: Let’s talk about girls. What does Dre see in Mai Ying that clicks with him?
A: He definitely thinks that she’s really beautiful. And he likes her a lot but he’s really awkward when he’s around her. I think that she likes him too and thinks that he’s funny. And she likes the things that he does, and he’s different too, because he says things like ‘yo!’ and ‘whaddup?’ (laughs).

Q: How about working with Jackie Chan?
A: Oh man, he is amazing. Every time that he would come in he would say ‘good morning’ in a different language. And he would teach like the crew members things and he would teach me things. Man, he was just very straight forward and he would get things done when he needed to get things done, you know? He was like the most amazing person ever, and like he was always teaching me things, he was teaching me things about how to stretch correctly, and how to like be in a scene correctly, and he would always tell me ‘OK, yeah, you need to focus..’ He was great. And he would always be right there with me the whole time.

Q: He’s supposed to be really funny, is he?
A: Oh yeah, he’s hilarious. I actually just saw him at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, we had to do some stuff.

Q: What’s the most important thing he taught you?
A: Probably to stay focused when you’re in the scene because if you’re focused and you can get it done, and the funniest thing he taught me is he would always go like this (drums his fingers) so you can play like a little song. I was doing it all the time.


Q: Why have you continued your martial arts training?
A: Well, I want to stay buff, you know. I’m trying to get my Taylor Lautner thing going on. Just in case they need a stunt double for Eclipse or something (laughs). I’m like ‘buff guy, here! Ready for any action, ready to turn into a werewolf at any time!’

Q: You filmed at Wudang and on The Great Wall…
A: First things first, I got sick on Wudang and I got sick real bad, couldn’t shoot, I shot one day, or two days at Wudang, and that’s the first time I watched Poltergeist, that movie’s awesome, and it was cool, Wudang. And The Great Wall was cool. But I had to do a lot of running and punching and kicking on it, and it was scalding hot sun, so it was exhausting, too.

Q: How about Shogun Academy?
A: That place was crazy and there was a whole bunch of kids doing their stuff there. It was cool and in the movie it looks amazing.

Q: What do you think of Chinese food?
A: I didn’t eat any Chinese food while I was there - I had burgers. Bling burgers. Yeah, it, they’re like In and Out for China and they’re really, they’re really good (laughs). I was surprised by how good they were.



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