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The Karate Kid
BLU-RAY disk
10.14.2010 By: Dave Davis
The Karate Kid order
Director:
Harald Zwart

Actors:
Jaden Smith
Jackie Chan
Taraji P. Henson

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
When his widow mom (Taraji P. Henson) gets a vague new job opportunity overseas, 12-year-old Dre (Jaden Smith) has to uproot from Detroit and relocate to Beijing, China. While dealing with the culture shock, he befriends adorable classmate Mei Ying (Wenwen Han), and finds himself the target of schoolyard bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his cohorts. Fortunately for Dre, his apartment’s doddering maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) also happens to be a martial arts master, and begrudgingly gives the boy kung fu lessons to prepare him for a public showdown with the bullies in the movie’s climactic tournament.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
From the get-go, THE KARATE KID has a few points against it. It’s a seemingly needless remake of a beloved 80s movie. It’s a blatant vanity project for A-lister (and producer) Will Smith to thrust his offspring/commodity in front of audiences. Co-star Jackie Chan’s Hollywood output has generally been dismal compared to his Hong Kong career. And there’s not even any actual karate in the movie.

And yet it somehow manages to be fairly entertaining. With 1984’s KARATE KID as only a basic framework, this capably directed update from Harald Zwart (AGENT CODY BANKS) follows the expected path of any standard underdog sports story, but does it with moderate charm (if a minimum of tension), and also captures a sample of China’s history and splendor. The movie also demonstrates that more than 25 years after the original, bullying is just as ugly, and seeing the thugs’ comeuppance is just as satisfying. It’s also great to see brief appearances by Chan collaborator Rongguang Yu (IRON MONKEY) and a wordless cameo by Michelle Yeoh.

But it’s not all cobra strikes and lotus flowers, as the saying I just made up goes. Young Smith has impressive athleticism and is clearly comfortable on screen, but the movie shamelessly (if understandably) plays to his birthright -- his mannerisms and delivery make him seem eerily like a small, braided version of his megastar dad more than anything close to a unique presence.

For a movie that rather unnecessarily stretches out to 2 hours and 20 minutes, there’s also not much emotional resonance beyond Dre and Mei Ying’s superficial puppy love and Mr. Han’s tragic revelation (a history between him and the merciless rival kung fu teacher is implied and then ignored). It’s never quite the warmth of the Macchio-Morita connection, but at least Chan gets an opportunity to emote, and has a single sequence to demonstrate his whirlwind martial arts.
THE EXTRAS
“Production Diaries” (30 min.) is broken into nine segments and looks at various behind-the-scenes aspects, like a profile of the director, cast members, shooting locations and a glimpse at Jaden’s training.

“Just for Kicks: Making of Karate Kid” (20 min.) starts with producer Jerry Weintraub talking about remaking his own 1984 movie, which gets loving praise from all involved, as does star Jackie Chan. The EPK-style piece also covers typical ground – pre-production, location shooting, fight choreography and training, score, etc. The young star’s famous producer-parents also make brief appearances.

There’s an Alternate Ending (4 min.) that likely would have been more satisfying for adults – it features Jackie Chan getting another big action scene, a lengthy duel with the cruel rival teacher after Dre’s final round at the arena. Tonally it doesn’t really fit, but it’s still cool to see the kung fu legend punctuate the story with a smackdown.

Some of the supplemental materials are obviously aimed at a younger crowd, given the inclusion of a torturous music video for “Never Say Never” from teen pop phenomenon Justin Bieber, and Chinese Lessons, which is essentially a very basic vocabulary/greeting tutorial over the too-cute collection of movie scenes with Jaden trying to wrap his mouth around the language. There’s also the Interactive Map of China, which is an informative (if not exactly “interactive”) map featuring footage of the movie’s shooting locations, with narration from director Harald Zwart.

The disc also features the BD-Live “Movie IQ” thingy, which most of us can probably live without, really.

The package also comes with a standard definition DVD and digital copy.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
A cunningly engineered “breakout” vehicle for Jaden Smith, this new THE KARATE KID doesn’t supply any real surprises (except a complete lack of karate), but at least it respects and celebrates the original movie. It's a familiar story with new faces and setting, which it takes advantage of to make an adequately enjoyable experience. Enduring appeal is another matter -- “Hang up your jacket” isn’t likely to replace “Wax on, wax off” in the pop culture quote lexicon.
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