Karate Kid, The (2010)

The Karate Kid 2010 The Karate Kid 2010 The Karate Kid 2010 The Karate Kid 2010 The Karate Kid 2010
Columbia
 
Sweet-tempered and picareque, but calculated and predictable to a fault, the new "Karate Kid," starring Afro-American Jaden Smith in the role that Ralph Macchio created in the 1980s franchise, gives the audience exactly what it expects, smoothly mounted, formulaic summer popcorn entertainment.
 
 
The major problems of this film are its by-the-numbers narrative and especially protracted running time—135 minutes to be exact. The flick seems to have been made under the (erroneous) assumption that more is more, which is the rule of most summer pictures these days. Thus, "Karate Kid" overextends its welcome by at least half an hour and some parents (and their children) may be looking at their watches, particularly during the last reels.
 
There are some major differences between the old and the new picture in scale and budget. In 1984, "Karate Kid," was made on a very modest budget (by studio standards), with two unknown actors. It therefore was a surprise when it became a sleeper at the box-office, garnered Pat Morita a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, and led to several sequels. (The young Hilary Swank made a "Karate Kid" picture in the 1990s, before she became an Oscar-winning actress).  
 
More significantly, in the 1980s, The Karate Kid" was something of a novelty, making a hero out of an ethnic minority (Italian-American), working-class outcast adolescent.  Ralph Macchio played Daniel who, bullied by nasty youth upon moving from Newark, New Jersey to sunny California, bonds with Miyagi (Pat Morita), an old, friendly Japanese janitor, who takes him his wing and begins to teach him about life and karate while getting him to do chores around the house.
 
The new movie has changed the age and ethnic composition of the two protags and we now have an African-American, who's only 12, mentored by a Chinese (and international action star), Jackie Chan. Jaden Smith, son of stars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith (who are also credited producers) is appealing but he does not project the image of an underprivileged, weak, and vulnerable kid.
 
The physical and cultural settings of the two movies are also different.  In this story, credited to Christopher Murphey, the boy is transplanted by his widowed mother (Taraji P. Henson) not to the bright and sunny California but to the foreign and exotic China, which allows the filmmakers to stress the notion of culture clash as well as to display some of China's mopst famous locations, such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, both spectacular sites (I visited both several years ago, when I was on the jury of the Shanghai Film Festival).
 
Upon settling in his new home, Dre Parker (Smith) finds himself beset by class bullies, especially the vicious youngster Cheng. Beaten up regularly, Dre quickly realizes that his modest karate skills are no match for the speed and proficiency of his tormentors' kung fu gifts.  Things change, when one nasty beating is unexpectedly interrupted by Mr. Han (Chan), a seemingly quiet, middle-aged maintenance man, who scares the bullies with his martial arts skills.

A tentative, unlikely friendship evolves between Dre and Mr. Han, who mentors Dre in kung fu in preparation for a tournament with his major enemy.   It doesn't help that the Cheng's kung fu teacher is a sadist brute, who instructs his pupils to mercilessly beat up and even maim their opponents.

Tjis story, as the 1984 movie demonstrated, would have been more emotionally effective if it were cats with two unknowns.  Already an experienced actor (having made a strong impression in his debut, "The Pursuit of Happyness," playing with his real-life father, Will Smith), Jaden Smith may be too good-looking and self-assured for playing a weakling. As for action star Jackie Chan, inevitably, he carries with him an extra-baggage, an established screen image and technical prowess, based on the hundreds of movies he has made in Hong Kong and the U.S.
 
Though shamelessly manipulative, the 1984 "Karate Kid" was undeniably effective and entertaining, offering genuine moments of warmth, humor and excitement in the action sequences.  In contrast, though set in China, this "Karate Kid" is a mindless, by-the-numbers flick, which may please very young and indiscriminating kids but will not linger long in anyone's memory.
 
End Note
 
"Rocky," starring Sylvester Stallone, which won the 1976 Best Picture Oscar, and "The Karate Kid," were made by the same director, John C. Avildsen.  Which may explain why, despite dealing with different sports and different protagonists, the two movies (and film series that followed) were very similar ideologically, sentimental, uplifting stories about working class–underdog–heroes.
 
Cast:
 
Jaden Smith
Jackie Chan
Taraji P. Henson
 
Credits
 
Production: Overbrook Entertainment
Director: Harald Zwart
Screenwriter: Christopher Murphey
Producers: Jerry Weintraub, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Lassiter, Ken Stovitz
Executive producers: Dany Wolf, Susan Ekins, Han San Ping
Camera: Roger Pratt
Production designer: Francois Seguin
Costume designer: Han Feng
Editor: Joel Negron
Music: James Horner
 
MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 135 Minutes.