A blog about movies and filmmaking.

“Jacket Off” Is Not The Same Thing As “Wax Off”, Just Saying

In action, drama on June 19, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Okay, I forewent the other 80’s remake – and the second in the series of “Good guys gone bad” in favor of THE KARATE KID. There’s two main reasons; one, I’m much more intimately familiar with THE KARATE KID than THE A-TEAM; and secondly, I buckled and went with the group that said that THE KARATE KID was actually a pretty decent movie – as opposed to A-TEAM. (I still want to see it, and have not totally bought into what the haters say. I just can’t afford both. And don’t even talk to me about not seeing TOY STORY 3…Los Angeles is expensive for watching movies.)

Anyway, the new THE KARATE KID, stars Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith and Taraji P. Henson; shifts the action from Southern California to Beijing, China; and obviously de-ages the main character from high school age, to a twelve year old. Other than those differences, and some other updating and tweaking the new movie is actually quite similar to the original 1984 KARATE KID. Dre meets a new friend in China, they hang out, he meets a girl, gets into a fight with a rival for her attention, tries to learn karate (or in this case kung-fu), and winds up being taught by the haggardly looking maintenance man in time to compete in a tournament.

That covers most of the beats to the movie. Though, the one major difference is that this movie was co-financed by a film group from China, which also seemed to want the movie to be a travelogue/tourist guide for the country. We have spectacular views of the modernity of Beijing, the glorious antiquity of The Forbidden City and other mountainous locales. It is part of the cause that this movie is about two and a half hours long, but I really didn’t have a problem with it. Maybe it’s because China is foreign to me, and the sight-seeing moments were in fact just that.

What I did have a little bit of an issue with was the actual martial arts. Yes, part of it was the modern trend of ramping up action and over-doing knock-downs; but really having these twelve year olds fight like I’m watching CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is pretty ridiculous. The one thing that was great about the original movie was that the karate  was realistic. It was sloppy and not-seemingly choreographed. Yes, I’m sure the kids in the new movie could definitely kick my ass, but I know I wouldn’t hit the ground at fifty-miles an hour twenty yards away, and it’s sad that they did in the movie. And I have to say the best fight scene in the movie, is in-fact the one where we actually get to see Jackie Chan take on a group of teenagers. It had his classic style, and didn’t even matter than Jackie Chan was essentially fighting kids…Badass kids, but still.

But, other than the nitpicking of the karate in a movie called The KARATE Kid, I actually really dug the movie. The changing of characters worked, the setups – that are familiar from the original – all flow pretty well. And Jaden Smith, who was liked in PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS – which he co-starred with real-dad, and producer of this movie – Will Smith and then despised in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL; is pretty decent. Though there’s a bit of obvious cloning of his father’s mannerisms and speech patterns in certain parts. Jackie Chan is pretty great, though a little under-written in the role of Mr. Han (not quite as catchy as Mr. Miyagi, but what can you do?). He’s great as the teacher, but there’s also just something a little off. Which I guess is the trade-off going between an actor that doesn’t really have martial arts training (Pat Morita, in the original) and a martial artist that is kind of questionable in his acting ability (no offense, Mr. Chan). You know, why not have gone ahead and just named the character Mr. Chan? It’s only, exactly, one letter different, but works.

That’s it. That’s what the problem is.

Okay, not really. Doesn’t matter anyway. The supporting cast, from Henson – who really should have more roles where she wears the silk dresses she does here – is good. The Asian actors are also pretty good. From love interest, Meiying (played by Han Wen Wen – what’s up with no credit link for her, IMDB??) and villainous brat, Cheng (Shenwei Wang) and of course evil Cobra Kai sensei…er, I mean Fighting Dragons Master Li (Rongguang Yu); all do great jobs creating full characters – well, maybe less so for Cheng. I mean why’s he care so much whether Meiying practices her violin or not?! But still, they all work and that’s what matters. And Master Li, has an added layer of evil that the original John Creese never had; mostly in calling for the destruction of a little black kid from Detroit…But, whatever.

Finally the work behind the camera from director Harald Zwart (PINK PANTHER 2) and screenwriter Christopher Murphey, manage to make this one remake that I wasn’t disappointed in and actually managed to be reverent of what came before. The score by James Horner, though I also felt was a little out of place. Sort of the same issue that happened with INVICTUS in that there are just moments where  – and not to be cliche – but maybe a little more Asian influence in the orchestration might have helped meld the piece all into one. But, the pop music beats here all work pretty fantastically. I even kind of cringe to say I liked the Justin Bieber song over the end credits – but more for the fun rap that Jaden does, and that I didn’t know who it was til I saw the credit…

Okay, I’m shutting up now. Overall, I gotta say THE KARATE KID surprised me in that it was an actual, solid family movie. Though I do have a problem saying that it’s a kid’s movie. The fighting in this movie is pretty brutal, even though it’s just between kids. But it works, and our kids could use a little brutality once in a while. (Hmm, probably could have phrased that better.)

And just because I can’t help myself. A moment from the original – which, needless to say, if you’ve never seen it. GO!!!

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