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The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

FIRST off, The Karate Kid remake is not a terrible movie. Indulgent, yes, overlong, definitely, but not as completely pointless as many updates and remakes.

There’s one big reason for this and that’s the casting of martial arts legend Jackie Chan in the pivotal role once occupied by Pat Molina. The Karate Kid comes alive whenever he’s on screen, while Harald Zwart also affords him plenty of opportunity to act, too, which is something of a treat for Western audiences more used to his madcap silliness.

That said, The Karate Kid re-boot (or re-kick, if you will) isn’t without problems. At two hours and 20 minutes, it’s massively overlong, while Jaden Smith flirts a little too closely with being merely pretentious (as opposed to pretentious but eventually likeable).

Still, the film deserves some credit, too, for not sticking rigidly to the plot of the original. It broadens the movie’s themes (bullying, isolation, loss, taking control of one’s life) and makes excellent use of its exotic Chinese locations.

When Dre (Smith) is forced to move to China with his widowed mother (Taraji P Henson) so that she can start a new job, he’s less than pleased, particularly when he quickly falls foul of local kung fu-fighting bullies while trying to impress a girl.

But just as he’s about to throw in the towel and demand a move back home, kindly caretaker Mr Han (Chan) comes to his aid by standing up to the bullies, and then agreeing to coach him in time for a martial arts tournament that may enable both sides to gain some sort of revenge.

As Dre learns, however, he also comes to respect the true meaning of martial arts and Chinese culture, while both Dre and Han unlock repressed emotions within each other that are beneficial to both.

Admittedly, Zwart’s movie isn’t without its cheesy elements, particularly during the closing moments when the sentiment goes into overdrive. But for the most part, it’s nicely acted and sometimes emotionally resonant.

Chan’s big breakdown and revelation scene is brilliantly handled, and shows a different side to the actor that looks set to lay down a marker for his Hollywood future, while young Smith jr has his moments.

The action scenes are suitably authentic , too, for the most part, allowing fists and feet to land with a bone-crunching realism that may make younger viewers wince. It looks as if it hurts and therefore has consequences.

And the use of location is exemplary, even if it does serve as an overlong travelogue for China’s tourist highlights (from the Great Wall to The Forbidden City).

As diverting as such elements are, however, the film could have done without the awkward romance between Smith and his admiring Chinese friend, while Hollywood’s tendency to stereotype the occupants of whichever country it visits sometimes feels lazy.

The grand finale, too, is a little overcooked for my liking, drawing on elements that have come before in the movie, but relying on crowd-pleasing gimmicks and even a CGI moment to heighten the supposed emotional effect. It actually numbs it.

But with all this in mind, newcomers should enjoy the experience, while fans of the original may enjoy some of what’s on offer, particularly as there are a couple of well judged and amusing nods to the original.

A mixed martial arts offering then, but neither as bad as we’d feared, nor as memorable as the original it seeks to emulate. It’s Jackie Chan fans, though, who will get the biggest kicks.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 140mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: November 15, 2010