Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate Kid (2010)

In a time of far too many remakes, this is a surprisingly good one. John Avildsen, who directed the original, had a great "underdog movie" mold and he used it to great effect with his 1984 film, just as he did 8 years before with the Best Picture winner Rocky. So when you've got a good formula, it's tricky to mess with it.

Which is why the remake is nearly a beat-for-beat copy of the original, only put into the new setting of China so that the sights are different, more dramatic, more majestic. And, despite what the title says (I will never understand why that essential change was not made), it's a different martial art, so the moves are different. Seriously, it's like all those posts about Avatar this winter, where someone just took a copy of the already existing story and, as they say, filed the serial numbers off (and not even all of them). Dre instantly makes a friend when he gets to his new home, but the guy disappears after the first few minutes of the movie. Dre is targeted by the bullies because he flirts with a girl one of them knows (or is "promised" to?). He gets beaten up and hides from the bullies at school. He gets just a little revenge and gets a group ass-kicking for his trouble, which is interrupted by the maintenance man who is actually rather good at ass-kicking himself. Dre and the maintenance man go to the - I'm sure the word is not dojo - class where his bullies are learning kung fu, and the similarities to the original have to be seen to be believed. Even the tournament hits almost exactly every note the original does. Dre is given a special garment - in this case a white tunic "like Bruce Lee's" before his first fight. There is then a tournament montage accompanied by some peppy music - sadly, not Joe Esposito's awesome "You're the Best." Dre makes it to the semi-finals and his opponent is told by his master to break a rule and disqualify himself in order to put Dre out of commission. Dre is injured and pleads with his teacher to do that magic healing thing we saw earlier in the film so that he can fight in the final. Dre goes to fight, on an injured leg, and his final opponent is instructed to sweep break his leg. And while it's not the Crane, Dre still witnesses ancient technique that somehow masters and uses in the very end to defeat his opponent.

This is not to say that these similarities are a flaw in the film. Far from it. For people who haven't seen the original, this simply pushes all the same buttons that the original did for us fans. As I said, it's a very effective formula, so why mess with it. For us fans, though, it does something just as cool. Since we know how the story goes, it becomes a game of how much of the original can they fit into this new setting, and how will they transpose our favorite elements of the original.

I thought this was a very satisfying film. Jaden Smith, it must be said, is a little annoying at times. Jackie Chan gets to demonstrate that he can act AND fight (his character's Obligatory Family Tragedy scene is actually very well played). And Taraji P. Henson is possibly the strongest link in the cast.

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