The Karate Kid
In recent years we’ve seen a predominance of films, cult classics or otherwise be mined for potential in terms of remakes. Whether it’s simply due to the goodwill involved in the original concept and calculated risk or a lack of original material capable of development I’m not sure but the stakes can often be daunting when fighting to warrant their existence against the original.
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Tajari P Henson) are forced to move to Beijing when her job at a Detroit car manufacturer demands it of them. Not long after arriving Dre tries to impress the young violinist Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han) in the local playground, attracting the negative attentions of Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his motley crew of kung fu prodigies. After one particular confrontation in which he is saved by the building repairman Mr Han (Jackie Chan), Dre inadvertadly enters himself into the local kung fu tournament, enduring hours of laborious training with his new teacher Han.
Attempting to dismiss the change in location and even the art he learns, director Harald Zwart manages to dismiss large portions of chinese culture because after all, “karate, kung fu – whatever”. Because we all know how wonderful relations are between China and Japan. Again and again, they try to reassure us this is a universal theme and largely they’re right but boiling two cultures down to “you’re Yoda and I’m like, a Jedi” doesn’t even comes close to sensitivity.
In terms of story little has changed, except for the addition of a now excessive running time of over two hours, a fact that may prove to be egregious with the younger target audience here. Every so often we are treated to a beautiful touristic insight into the well established sights of the country, adding little to assuage the fears of blatant stereotyping.
One uncertain alteration comes in the form of the previously mentioned target audience, meaning our protagonist is transformed from a relatively fully-formed teenager into a rather sass-ridden twelve year old. Such vulnerability of age and stature results in the bullying becoming a more believable element yet causes practically every other to suffer. The Mei Ying romance for example, cannot carry any real gravitas as neither is an a position to make it believable or even fully realized. One such attempt to do so, provided by a local folk tale enters shaky ground when it suddenly becomes too adult.
Action suffers equally as much from the same key point as the skills these children possess feel outlandish, unfitting of their youth and naiveté. This loss is more palpable than anything as the sequences and fights are well timed, edited and choreographed but are never genuine due to the simple fact that even if we could believe they could take such a torrent of physical abuse, why we would want to make children into such characters is of equal concern.
Smith and Cheng are the least comfortable on screen out of the entire cast from an acting perspective, the first relying on awkward chatter and the latter reduced to grimaces not even Nuclear Man would resort to. Henson, an actress I have long respected for works including “Benjamin Button” is written into a corner somewhere between shrill cheerleading and psychotropic optimism, never allowed to flex any real muscle.
While I can respect the efforts gone to create a new and worthwhile addition to the existing legacy, I can’t shake off the feeling that with an older base set of characters and a tighter narrative it could have succeeded. Instead there is one not quite like the others, for all the wrong reasons.