Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Kung Fu Kid

I know, here in the States the title is The Karate Kid, but I'm pretty sure the only time the word "karate" was used in the entire movie was when someone incorrectly referred to kung fu as karate. I understand why they called it The Karate Kid. Pretty sure it's simply for the fact that it's almost a shot for shot remake of the 1984 classic starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. There are few movies that are so ingrained in our pop culture as the original Karate Kid. Really, who among us hasn't, at one time or another, repeated the phrase "wax on, wax off."

That being said, I was real iffy about even wanting to see this movie. Even when I first heard that Will Smith's production company was looking to remake the movie with his own son as the new Karate Kid, I was extremely skeptical. First of all, I didn't want to like it because Jaden Smith was way too young. Who wants to go into a movie and watch a 10-year-old get the crap beat out of him. And you just knew that would happen, because it's The Karate Kid. He's got to get the crap beat out of him so he'll have the motivation to learn the necessary skills to come back and be the best around.

And then the trailers hit a few months ago. Time had passed and the Fresh Prince's kid wasn't 10 anymore. He was 12, which makes all the difference in the world. Not really, but I'll give it to him, at least he is an actual kid. Macchio was, what, 24 when he played Daniel Larusso? The differences showcased in the trailers made the remake just different enough to make me want to see it. I was intrigued.

However, there was still a part of me that just didn't want to pay the admission price on principle. I know I've said it before, and I know I'll say it again, but Hollywood just doesn't seem to be trying too hard these days. Look at the line-up of blockbusters that are planned for this summer. How many of them aren't remakes or sequels to previous movies? When was the last time you paid good money to see a movie that was based on an original story? Not an older movie, not a part one, and not a book that's been on the shelves for a few years. And don't say Avatar, because you know just as well as I do that that movie was just a remake of Dances With Wolves and/or Pocahontas.

But my curiosity won out. Today I paid my matinee price and sat down in the dark to watch a movie that I had already seen a dozen times over. I will say this: I was pleased with the end result. Yes, it was a remake in the truest sense of the word. It wasn't as blatant as the Psycho remake that came out in the 90s, but the basic story elements and progression were exactly like Daniel's plight against the Cobra Kais.

Jaden Smith steps into the role of the Karate Kid, a.k.a. Dre, while Jackie Chan does a great job of playing the part of kung fu master to the young protege. But could there have actually been anyone else to play the role of Mr. Han? Jackie Chan is to martial arts cinema what Bruce Lee was to... well... martial arts cinema.

Anyway, Dre is forced to leave the life he knows in Detroit for a life of uncertainty and fear in Beijing when his mother's job is transferred to China. Of course, as is the case in most of these underdog movies, our little hero runs into a nasty streak of bad luck on his first day out when he talks to the wrong girl and chaos then ensues. Basically, he gets his butt handed to him again and again. He doesn't help matters by escalating things, but he can't learn that whole "vengeance is wrong" lesson until Mr. Miyagi Han steps in to save the day and teach him that lesson.

One of the positive differences in this version of the story is the relationship between student and teacher. In 1984, we got a clear picture of what kind of relationship Daniel and Mr. Miyagi had, but Miyagi was never really humanized for us. There was the scene where Daniel walked in on his drunk sensei celebrating his anniversary and we learn that his wife had died many years before in childbirth. But we really don't get more of his back story until the sequel. Mr. Han, on the other hand, is incredibly vulnerable and we learn exactly why he is so shut down and initially has trouble relating to Dre. The teacher/student relationship here is far more give and take than the original version. Both of them have something to learn from the other.

Watching Jaden Smith, if you weren't sure that he is Will Smith's son, all doubt would be gone in the first few minutes of the movie. The kid's facial expressions and mannerisms are a dead giveaway that he is his father's son. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I think Will Smith is a great actor. So if his son got some of that talent, good for him. I was just really uneasy about how he would do after having seen The Day the Earth Stood Still, which did not impress me at all.

And in the end, the good guy won. That's how it usually works. Underdog stories usually follow a pretty specific formula. This one had a pretty easy task of following a specific, specific underdog storyline. I couldn't help but laugh toward the end when people in the theater began clapping whenever Dre would have a victory in his Kung Fu Tournament. Everyone in the audience had to have known the kid was going to win in the end, but they clapped like they were in genuine suspense, unsure of the outcome. But, as I was told by the Most Awesome Person I Know, it was a feel-good movie. Again, that's how these underdog stories go.

So, as it was, this new Karate Kid was a decent show, worth the matinee price of admission. Thankfully it wasn't in 3-D, another trend I'd love to throw out the window, along with the idea of endless remakes.

No comments:

Post a Comment