The Karate Kid
Starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson
Written by Christopher Murphey
Based on the film "The Karate Kid" written by Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by Harald Zwart
Release: 11 June 2010
Columbia Pictures, 140 mins., Rated PG-13
Plot: 12-year old Drey from Detroit moves to China and gets bullied pretty ruthlessly, and gets the help of a martial arts master to teach him to control his anger and (possibly) kick these bullies asses in the process.
THE KARATE KID is a 'remake' of the 1984 film of the same name, world renowned for its "wax on, wax off" sequence. It's a bit unfair to even call this 2010 vehicle a 'remake', since it's by no means trying to remake the 1984 film. It takes the basis and (certain) elements from that film and turns it into a entirely new creature brimming with awesome characters, beautiful visuals, great performances, and a stellar score by Mr. James Horner [making up for his sub-par AVATAR score].
Since I've now established that I can't say this flick qualifies as a 'remake', I will now make the assertion that THE KARATE KID is perhaps the first "great" movie of 2010. Oh, sure, no doubt there's been plenty of "good" and "really good" releases, but "great"? Not so much. KARATE KID is blastin' at all cylinders, absolutely making it one of the most enjoyable and pleasing experiences this year.
Before I go off praising the film for multiple paragraphs, I'll get the [very few] nitpicks out of the way right this instant: as basically every reviewer has noted, the movie isn't short. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film is a little long. I've seen the flick twice, and the funny part is the pacing bothered me more the first time than the second. But honestly, if I were a editor looking over this production and deciding what was necessary to cut, I would be forced to do nothing. With the sole exception of one sequence between Dre and Mei at a festival, I couldn't possibly cut a thing. Truthfully, every scene in this movie is integral to these characters and to the emotion the finale brings. Deleting more from the film could (possibly) damage the film. So I'm torn. On one hand, yes - it's long; but on the other hand, I'm entirely OK with it. And the other nitpick: it ends too quickly: happiness. freeze frame. done. C'mon! Give us a epilogue, at least!
Alright, now to the KARATE KID loving: first I wish to mention the sheer amazingness of both Jackie Chan (The Spy Next Door) and Jaden Smith (The Day the Earth Stood Still), something I would never have believed if I didn't see this film. Jackie Chan delivers what could be his best performance of his career [I dunno; haven't seen ALL of his works], being amazingly subtle and very down-to-earth, his eyes and body expression conveying so much with so little (if that makes sense). As Mr. Han, Jackie Chan has effectively won over my respect and showcases that he's much more than just 'the martial arts' guy. And Jaden Smith - perhaps the single most worrisome aspect of the entire production for me. I seriously thought that kid was gonna bomb. Instead, he makes this film. This 12-year old kick hits every emotional beat and comedic moment down to the T; it's Jaden's film, and he damn well knows it. That kid has one hell of a promising career.
Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is great as Dre's mom, but she's not given a super duper amount of stuff to do. Basically, she's your cool mom who can also be really, really annoying in a single instant. And Wen Wen Han as Mei Ying, Dre's schoolboy crush, is pretty damn adorable and works fine for what the movie asks of her. The bully dudes who kick Dre's arse all throughout school are pretty cool, truth be told. Their English may be a bit dodgy at times, but there's no denying they look totally badass and do their role perfectly enough that you can't wait for Jackie or Jaden to show them who's boss.
As for the karate/kung fu [aka the general only-reason-I'm-seeing-this-movie-damnit!], it's brutal, it's awesome, and it's very real. When the kids beat Dre up at the park and later outside his apartment building, it's ruthless, cruel, and dangerous. That's something this flick does well: it makes the karate a lethal force all on its own when used by Dre's enemies, but something akin to harmony and peacefulness as taught (properly) by Chan onto Dre. The final battle scene when Dre can finally lock in combat against those who have made him fearful is deliciously satisfying and extremely exciting. If one has any problem with the running time, the fight makes it totally worth it.
Direction by Harald Zwart is especially noteworthy. Harald uses zooms and hand held on a multitude of occasions, and uses it well without going overboard. This works to create even more intensity and gloom & doom during the tournament face off against Dre and his bully-er person. The score, provided by James Horner (The Mask of Zorro) hits all the right notes: intense and brutal during the fight scenes, epic when it looks like all hope has failed, and learning montagey during the learning montages. The film's screenplay is pitch perfect. We get this kid, we understand where he's coming from, and we instantly love him from scene one onwards. The script does a marvelous job with its characters and plotlines, and I wholeheartedly endorse it for some sort of big league nomination.
In a nutshell, THE KARATE KID does everything right. I love it. I recommend it. I'll own it on DVD. I'll listen to the commentary, watch the deleted scenes, the whole nine yards. If you have any reservations still standing against this 'remake', I implore you to just give in and see this goldmine. It's great, and at the very, very least, you'll get a nice laugh out of the jokes and some 'ooo, aaaahh' from the fight scenes. Go see KARATE KID!