Review: THE KARATE KID (2010) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Review: THE KARATE KID (2010)

RATING: 2.5/5

At the first glance, a remake of the original THE KARATE KID (1984) is wholly unnecessary but you can't blame of Hollywood for lacking of fresh ideas nowadays. But surprisingly, this 2010 remake manages to hold on its own. Not only that, it's also a decidedly faithful remake with a few minor differences aside (the teen characters have now reduced to preteens and the setting has been changed from California to Beijing). The rest is more of the same: a formulaic underdog story that director Harald Zwart and screenwriter Christopher Murphy and Robert Mark Kamen follows closely to the genre convention without bringing anything new to the table. The result is thankfully decent enough, except that the movie is unbelievably overlong (which is clocking at 140 minutes!).

Preteen Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) moves from Detroit to Beijing, China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) after she lands a new job. Not surprisingly, he feels awkward and unhappy in his new surrounding especially facing a whole different culture that he have tough time trying to adapt properly. Things get worse when he ends up being bullied and beaten up by a mean-looking Chinese kid named Cheng (Wang Zhenwei) in the public park after making a big mistake of picking on the sweet, violin-playing classmate Meiying (Han Wenwen). Since then, Dre grows scared as Cheng and his fellow classmates like to bully him each time they crosses path. But this is not until Dre finally seeks help from his apartment building's janitor, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) to teach him how to self-defense. Mr. Han, a lonely guy with a dark past who doesn't speaks much, is reluctant at first but subsequently agrees to do so, shortly after he make a promise with Cheng's ruthless karate teacher, Master Li (Yu Rongguang) for an upcoming tournament that will have Dre squaring off against Cheng. At the beginning, Dre have tough time trying to adapt with the way of Mr. Han's strict learning skill but gradually understands the motive behind it and also unexpectedly forms a solid friendship with him as well.

Despite all the enormous predictability, the movie is largely saved from a line of better-than-average cast. Jaden Smith is no doubt a superstar-in-the-making. Although he is still a preteen, he is both absorbing and sympathetic as Dre Parker who has the same attitude and charisma the way his famous father, Will Smith has. Jackie Chan, on the other hand, is a surprise revelation. He's never known as an actor with dramatic chops, not at least in the Hollywood he's been working here since RUSH HOUR (1998), but he manages to pull off an engaging performance as a man with a wisdom full of grace, simplicity and authority. This is no doubt his most matured screen turn he ever had in his longtime career. While he is reduced to a more supporting part who doesn't really fights a lot as one might have hoped for, at least there is a memorable highlight where he is first squaring off against a bunch of bullies lead by Cheng with his graceful kungfu skills without punching any of them. The rest of the supporting actors are equally credible, even for what would have been a thankless role for Taraji P. Henson as Dre's overly-concerned mother.

The other good thing about this movie, is cinematographer Roger Pratt and director Harald Zwart's keen attention to detail of day-to-day life in China. Unlike most Hollywood movies which always showcased China as skeletal as possible, they manage to capture the true essence of what China really looks and feels like -- ranging from the exotic to the commonplace of the community.

As decent as the movie manages to pull off handsomely, it's still a highly-flawed entertainment that Harald Zwart could have take notice. An unnecessarily overlong subplot involving a puppy love between Dre and Meiying takes too much time to develop the whole scenario, while it remains skeptical of the filmmakers' odd choice to name this movie as THE KARATE KID whereas the main premise doesn't focus on karate, but instead as kungfu (back then, the movie is actually called as THE KUNGFU KID before the studio finally settled for the brand name). Another glaring problem is the casting of Jaden Smith himself. Though as good as he is in the acting department, one might feel odd of thinking a street-smart kid like him doesn't qualify enough to be a underdog. Perhaps he is too cute or a little too confident for such role, but that's just minor nitpicking. Lastly, the would-be engaging finale in the tournament where Dre is squaring off a bunch of opponents before finally settling down against Cheng, isn't as exciting as one might hoped for. Surprisingly, the finale is more like an afterthought and this is where the filmmakers should have put more effort.

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