KARATE KID, THE (2010)
Twelve-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) was happy in Detroit, but his widowed mother's (Taraji P. Henosn) latest career move has taken them to China. Dre immediately falls for his violin-playing classmate Mei Ying (Wenwen Han), but her family doesn't approve. Even worse, Dre's feelings make an enemy of the class bully, the kung fu prodigy, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang). The bullies make his life hell; Dre has nowhere to turn until the apartment block's maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), comes to his rescue. Secretly a kung fu master, Han teaches Dre that kung fu is not about punches and skill, but maturity and calm. Dre realises that he must face down the bullies to stop being scared of them.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The one thing a remake can never be is original. But the 1984 original was a big hit and spawned three sequels (as well as a video game). But these haven't been seen by the new generation of movie kids so Robert Mark Kamen has helped write another version, with veteran Jerry Weintraub again producing. This time the story is set in China, where the 12 year old Dre (Jaden Smith) finds himself bullied at his new Beijing school. In the original, Pat Morita played the wise old martial arts master, Mr Miyagi. This time it's the likeable Jackie Chan, but even his ruggedly charming persona doesn't quite ring all the bells - but it's not his fault. The script and direction let him down. His martial arts work (including all the training, stunts and choreography, are superb.)
The film, made as a co-production with the Chinese Government film company, goes to great lengths to show us the China the beautiful. The travelogue - like aerial shots of Dre training [inexplicably] on the Great Wall of China - is lovely but it pads out the film, which is already swollen with unnecessary elements. It runs 140 minutes, and wears out its welcome.
Not that it's a bad film: Jaden Smith is fine as the plucky dreadlocked Dre, and all the supports are great, notably the Chinese baddies and Dre's mum Taraji P. Hanson. Wenwen Han is sweet as young violin prodigy with an eye for Dre, but their relationship feels forced into the screenplay. Likewise an unsubtle backstory concerning Mr Han, engineered to explain his interest in helping Dre - totally unnecessary and wasteful of screen time.
The payoff is so elongated that it loses impact after a build up that is dissipated by lack of disciplined filmmaking. It also panders to Chinese sensibilities with a mawkish attempt at repositioning the bad lads at the last moment with sensibilities they never possessed. But for youngsters looking to live out a wish fulfilment about underdogs overcoming their bullies, it should do fine.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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KARATE KID, THE (2010) (PG)
CAST: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wanwen Han, Rongguang Yu, Zhensu Wu,
PRODUCER: James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Ken Stovitz, Jerry Weintraub
DIRECTOR: Harald Zwart
SCRIPT: Christopher Murphey (story by Robert Mark Kamen)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Pratt
EDITOR: Joel Negron
MUSIC: James Horner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francois Seguin
RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 1, 2010 (Vic, Qld); July 8 (NSW, WA, SA)