42 Screens: The Karate Kid

For years movie goers have paid to see Jackie Chan pummel the villains and beat up the bad guys, but how much would you pay to see Jackie Chan beat up a gang of twelve years old kids?  Jackie Chan returns to the big screen in the remake of the classic karate film The Karate Kid.

In this 2010 remake we see Jackie Chan return to a serious mentor role, much like we saw from him in the Forbidden Kingdom, as he teaches young Jaden Smith not karate but Kung Fu.  The film plays out much like the original in numerous aspects.  Dre Parker (Smith) is the new kid in town, his mother having moved him from Detroit to Beijing, who suffers the wrath of a neighbourhood bully.  During a particularly brutal beating at the hands of the kung fu bully Cheng and his friends, the kindly maintenance man Mr. Han (Chan) comes to Dre’s aid, revealing himself as a kung fu master who adeptly dispatches Dre’s tormentors.  After he tries to talk to the bully’s teacher, Master Li, in an attempt to make peace the pair is left with option but to fight in an upcoming tournament.

From here Mr. Han begins his method of training the boy, not using a wax-on wax-off technique but with the repetitive motion of removing the jacket, hanging it up, picking it off the ground and putting it on, all which reveal to be the basics of defensive block and strike techniques.  After a lengthy montage, not to “Your The Best” but instead to the new “Never Say Never” performed by Justin Bieber and Jaden Smith, we see Dre grow in both skill, discipline and confidence.  The tournament plays out remarkably similar to the original, our main hero backingout of the ring in his first fight, the disqualification of the enemy in the semi-final by an illegal leg attack and the final dramatic kick to win the day.

Yet despite the familiar movie many changes have been made.  Gone is the mystical hand rubbing healing power only to be replaced by a fire cupping technique,   gone is the karate in favour of the Chinese kung fu, and gone is the legendary Crane Kick replaced by a reflection technique that entrances your opponent.  Gone is Cobra Kai, the Arian based villains from the original, replaced by a much younger and brutal unnamed dojo.  These kids, while young, are much meaner, athletic and cruel then the blond hair beach boys ever were.  Yet despite their differences they are still instilled with the virtues of ‘No Mercy, No Pain, and No Weakness.”  Many of these changes were made for culture reasons, the changes that come with moving from Japanese martial arts to a Chinese bases one, but are merely cosmetic.  The true differences come in the themes and characters.

The original movie was a classic example of the oriental monk in American popular culture, the unfamiliar religion, the foreign master and the new way of thinking that involves peace and defence over combat.  This theme survives the near thirty years gap but with some expansion.  We still see the American individual being taught new ideals by the Asian master but while the mentality of peace and defence still exist it has been coupled with discipline, focus, patience and confidence.  This movie, much like The Karate Kid, Part II, also involves the mystical master’s trouble past and the child’s attempt to aid his mentor.  These bring on the additional theme of perseverance in the face of great tradegy.  Yet the biggest thematic addition to the franchise is the focus on bullying.  While it existed in the original the bullying was little more than a lot device but in the remake we see the true stress and hardship bullying can put on a child and how the sooner it is taken care of the better.

The movie was produced by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and was fashioned as a star vehicle for Jaden Smith.  For the son of the famous actor this marks his third Hollywood film following the success of his minor roles in Pursuit of Happiness and The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Unlike in his previous films Jaden takes front line and we get to see his acting skills.  While many of his father’s mannerism, facial expressions and movements are visible in his acting Jaden does much to prove that he is his own actor.   His acting was soulful and deep, somber and believable as a kid for whom things never came easily; he never conveys the sense that he’s desperate to be liked.  I predict this is the beginning of a strong career for the beneficiary of dynastic largesse but quickly growing past the well known Smith name to make a prominent one for him.  Yet what surprised me the most was the dramatic role of Jackie Chan that we rarely see this side of the ocean.  Chan proves that he can play a tortured man who lives every day in agony.  Chan has long since been trying to shed his type casted image of the Mr. Nice Guy action hero; hopefully after this film we will see more of his dramatic roles.

Despite the highly stylized martial arts, and the brutal kids, the movie is still a highly enjoyable family film.  It is a faithful reproduction of the original and not to be missed.

Note: After a $56 million opening weekend it has already been confirmed for a sequel.

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