The Karate Kid (2010)

May 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm Leave a comment

I don’t relish insulting the acting ability of a 12 year old child. Believe me, doing so makes me feel kind of dirty. But when watching The Karate Kid remake, the elephant in the room is its star, Jaden Smith. I feel for the kid. Not only does he have the unenviable task of starring in the remake of a beloved 80’s classic but he is also the son of international film star/musician Will Smith. That is a lot for a 12 year old to live up to.

But Mike, you say, you don’t have to hold him up to such a high standard. Why compare him to the ability of his father or of previous Karate Kid star Ralph Macchio. Ok. Jaden Smith is not a very good actor. Period. He sleepwalks through this movie. Most of the time he looks bored with what is going on around him. He sells injuries worse than the most pathetic professional wrestler. The one scene where he is angry, it’s more like he is throwing a hissy fit. The kid has an unique look but really he has all the charisma that would make him the perfect fit for a Kix commercial. About the only positive thing I can say is he does seem to be fairly athletic. Maybe sports would be a better field for him to break into.

Speaking of unenviable tasks, how would you like to be the director of this film? I don’t know whether to blame him or feel sorry for him. Not only do you have to tell Will Smith’s kid what to do, Will Smith is also one of the producers on the film. Considering most of the cast was Chinese and the film was shot in China, the Norwegian probably gave them direction through a translator. Jackie Chan pretty much knows what he is doing so I can’t imagine the director had a lot of work to do with him. In other words, this directors only job was to make the star look good. And he didn’t.

Onto the story. It borrows many plot elements from the original but changes up things fairly drastically. It’s the same thing as The Karate Kid, only different. It’s what a remake probably should be. The main character of this film, Dre, is not a New Jersey kid moving to California. He is a Detroit kid moving to China.  Instead of learning Karate, Dre learns Kung Fu, not from Mr. Miyagi but from Mr. Han. Some of the scenes are lifted right from the original. This is where it is really clear how poor the acting is. Particular the scene where Daniel/Dre are injured in the semi-finals and asks Mr. Miyagi/Mr.Han to heal him for the final fight. Watch these scenes side by side and you tell me what you see wrong with this picture? They are almost word for word the same scene. But one of them has heart, the other one doesn’t.

What did they keep from the original? Dre immediately spots a girl he likes and bullies get in the way, beating him up to keep him away from her. After an hour or so into the movie, Dre is saved from a beating by Mr. Han. Mr. Han goes with Dre to the dojo to confront the kung fu teacher, who’s methods have made the bullies aggressive and undisciplined. As a compromise, Mr. Han states that Dre will fight at a tournament. Mr. Han uses unorthodox methods to teach Dre kung fu. Mr Han has a tortured past which Dre kind of helps him feel better about.  They get to the kung fu tournament and Mr. Han doesn’t know the rules. Dre, at first, doesn’t really know what he is doing.  But he gets more confident and fights his way to the semi-finals.  In the semi-finals, the rival dojo master instructs one of his students to injure Dre, which he reluctantly does. Mr. Han uses his mystical healing powers so Dre can fight in the finals. Dre uses a super move to win in the finals on a bad leg.

What did they change? Well, most notably is the location. This is probably one of the best aspects of this movie. In a lot of movies now days, they are shot in studios against green screens with CGI backgrounds added later. That or they are shot in Canada which is dressed up to look like America. The Karate Kid is shot almost exclusively in China. It was refreshing to see a movie make use of exotic locations. The fight choreography was very different from the original. Jackie Chan’s finger prints are all over the fight choreography, which is ok when you’re making a Jackie Chan movie. But when you’re making a remake to The Karate Kid, maybe some of the outrageous moves and stunts are out of place.  Particular the scene where Mr. Han saves Dre from a beating. It is classic Jackie Chan and was a real face palm moment.  Mr. Han’s training methods are probably one of the more arguable points of this movie compared to the original. Sure, making Daniel do household chores to learn karate seemed kind of silly but the reveal of why Mr. Miyagi was doing what he was doing was satisfying. In this movie, Mr. Han just makes him hang up his jacket thousands of times a day. When it’s revealed what he is doing, it really makes no sense what so ever. Granted, Dre needed an attitude adjustment. But even when it’s reveal how hanging up a jacket was suppose to help him learn kung fu, it is a scene so well choreographed that there is no way that Dre learned all of that from hanging up a jacket. Even after that, Dre still acts like a cocky, annoying brat. So all in all, he learned nothing from hanging up his jacket.  You wasted a half hour. Mr. Han brings him to the Great Wall of China to learn kung fu. While Mr. Miyagi did bring Daniel to the beach to learn karate, the point of it was to learn balance by standing against the waves. It’s unclear how the Great Wall helped Dre’s kung fu training, other than it being a beautiful image.

Another thing that changed drastically was the subplot with the girlfriend. The bullies are not harassing Dre because they are attached to the girl he likes. In fact, I have no idea why they are hassling Dre. If it had been racism, at least that would have been a reason. Instead, they are just mean for the sake of being mean. It’s a lot more difficult to take the love subplot seriously because it’s pre-teen love. I’m not sure you can even call this love. It’s more like a friendship-ish. She likes his hair. And he is just kind of bored with her. I guess he likes to dance in front of her but what she does for him is unclear. So since the bullies aren’t getting between these kids, what does? Dre being a jerk. He shows up late for her violin recital and is just a general distraction from her studies.  This subplot is really inconsequential and doesn’t have the same importants as the original. You could take it out and have the same movie, only a half hour shorter.

Much like the original, this movie is long. It shouldn’t take two hours to tell this story. I complained about it in the original and I’ll complain about it in this one too. This is the most basic story you can tell. A fish out of water learns how to stand up for himself and earns respect. We don’t need two hours of hanging up a jacket and a half-hearted love story.

One other little thing that really bothered me. Much like the original, the hot water in the apartment doesn’t work. So they have Mr. Han come in to fix the hot water. In China, apparently you have to turn on the hot water manually and wait a half hour or so. When Dre tells him that in America the hot water is always on, Mr. Han says ” You should do it our way, save the planet.” Excuse me? Are we getting a lecture about environmentalist from the red Chinese? Hey, I’m all for water and energy conversation. But I won’t be lectured to by people who have air quality measurably worse than Los Angeles. If you want, you can look into China’s environmental record. It is laughable that they would tell us to “Save the Planet” because we have hot water on demand.  Hot water heaters are hardly a problem compared to rivers filled with industrial toxins. How about you stop sending up products poisoned with lead and I’ll think about getting a new hot water heater?

Oh, then there is the misleading movie description on imdb. I’ll offer my comments in italics for the sake of clarity.

12-year-old Dre Parker could’ve been the most popular kid in Detroit, Really? He had a handful of friends and didn’t seem any more or less popular than anyone else. but his mother’s latest career move has landed him in China.  What does his mom do for work exactly? They mentioned something about an auto manufacture but it’s unclear what she does? Are things so bad in Detroit that the people there would rather make 3 cents an hour in China? Dre immediately falls for his classmate Mei Ying – and the feeling is mutual – but cultural differences make such a friendship impossible. Not really. They were good friends until he didn’t show up for her violin recital.  Even worse, Dre’s feelings make an enemy of the class bully, Cheng.  Oh, this kid is awesome by the way. I  look forward to seeing him as the bad guy in action movies for years to come. He is like Chong Li in Bloodsport. In the land of kung fu, Dre knows only a little karate, and Cheng puts “the karate kid” on the floor with ease. That is a big, fat lie. He doesn’t know any karate. He mentions his uncle showing him some judo throws but doesn’t use any of that when he gets his ass kicked. He really seems more like a typical Detroit street fighter. Oh and he mentions the judo part in passing way later on when he is training with Mr. Han. This statement is simply false.  With no friends in a strange land, Dre has nowhere to turn but maintenance man Mr. Han, who is secretly a master of kung fu. As Han teaches Dre that kung fu is not about punches and parries, but maturity and calm, Another big lie. That was in the original Karate Kid but none of that emotion is in the movie due to the aforementioned bad acting.  Dre realizes that facing down the bullies will be the fight of his life. When did he reach that realization? I missed that part.

This movie sucks. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen but it is very forgettable. If you want to see Jackie Chan, there are tons of better movies. I’d much rather watch Will Smith than his kid sleepwalk through a performance. And that was really shocking to me. Will Smith hasn’t exactly been in epic masterpieces. Although, I haven’t seen his dramatic work. Still, he has so much natural charisma that he can take a cheesy movie and make it entertaining. He has always been able to elevate the movies he is in. His kid, not so much. I know that this was a lot more pressure than most kids his age could handled but still, his performance is a boat anchor around this movie.  I’d say he should try rapping instead but the end credits have a song with him and Justin Beiber rapping. Maybe the kid should try his hand at accounting instead.

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