Sunday 1 August 2010

Review: The Karate Kid

Year: 2010
Director: Harald Zwart
Screenplay: Christopher Murphey
Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson

It's a remake, made well and truly on commerce alone and suffers from one of the worst cases of nepotism since Francis Ford Coppola decided that his daughter could act. This updated version of the 1984 hit, plays the same notes as the original film, and will most likely entertain those who have never heard of being "the best around". There will be many however, who won't be able to get past the obvious issues the film has. It's understandable but it's doesn't make the film as terrible as many supporters of the original film will probably make it sound.

The idea that 11-12 year old kids are martial art gods, who fall in love like those teenagers do is a cute idea in theory I guess, but a difficult one to put in practice. Even in the fictional world of Hollywood flicks, there has to be an air of plausibility that rings slightly true. TKK 2010 struggles with this believability for the simple reason that while the world feels quite real, the characters don't. The original film had Ralph Macchio's Daniel at the perfect age for what he experiences. By taking away those extra years, the movie falters in not only it's fight scenes (Jackie Chan beating on pre-teens anyone?) but from an emotional aspect. The relationship which blossoms between the two lead pre-teens would have much stronger if they just a little older. This really hits home during an scene in an arcade where the love interest Meiying (Wenwen Han) performs a dance routine which tries to be cute but as a westernized sexuality about it that just feels a tad wrong.

The film also suffers from an uneven performance by it's lead. Jaden Smith is clearly his fathers son and there's clearly an air of charm about him that shines through at the best of times. unfortunately this is clouded by awkward pauses, odd glances and general inexperience. It's refreshing to see a child actor who isn't older than their years (see early Dakota Fanning) but it is frustrating to see someone who hasn't got the emotional range fight against the material. Once again...a couple of years in the future and who know.

This however is just two strands of a film which is stronger than I gave it credit for. The film doesn't stray too far from the original feature in terms of basic structure (a good thing for those who love an underdog story) and the idea of setting the film outside of the the U.S is a nice touch which helps enhance the feeling of alienation that the young Dre feels. It also provides an a refreshing look at race relations. The film doesn't feel the need to shoehorn Caucasian characters within the film to "reach an audience" nor does it feel like an "urban" movie (Pop locking and hip-hop soundtrack aside). The film is confident that it's story will win people over, rather than the colour of the actors skin. There's certain elements that definitely helped (Brand name, Jackie Chan, Fresh Prince producing) but to be honest these aspects really do melt away and the film does enough to stand on it's own two feet. Other strong points include the cast around Jaden Smith help a lot during weaker moments and that the film is not only colorful and bright but zips along at a nice pace. For a family film that is nearing two and a half hours long, I certainly didn't feel it.

The films real revelation for however, is Jackie Chan as maintenance man Mr Hun . An actor known more for his comedic displays gives his best western film performance to date. His best scene (also the films strongest), involves a tearful monologue involving an accident with his character family. Like a few of his films of the past decade, it seems to be clear to Chan he can now take that energy from his infamous fight scenes (which must be becoming increasingly difficult with age) and direct it elsewhere. If this is the result, then Chan may have a beautiful renaissance as a "serious" actor.

It has enough 80's charm (read cheese) who remain watchable, and more than enough of it's own moments to not cheapen any memories of the original film. Fun to watch, well put together fight choreography and a heart in the right place. It is clear that like I said, the film is clearly based on brand recognition* and commerce over everything. However in watching those small moments and taking in the little aspects of charm the film as, you can see at least this one is trying.

*Note: It is called The Karate Kid in America clearly because it's a remake and people know the name. However, throughout the film they preform Kung Fu. A part of me really does believe it could have been called the Kung Fu Kid and survived commercially.