Tuesday, 21 June 2011

REVIEW: The Karate Kid

Another Hollywood remake, but this time a worthy one.

Okay, so this film has been out for a while, but it's the first film I've seen for a while as I'm on Season 8 now of The X Files (so so close) and it's been eating up all my time, but I'm now committed to finishing it and ended up just sticking this on and was pleasantly surprised.

My immediate problem was that I hate Will Smith. I find his 'acting' unbearable and his cockiness which might seem endearing I find rather irritating and let's be honest, he's not a great rapper either (as much as I know on the subject of rapping), so the idea of his offspring kicking butt at 12 or however old he is already grates. But then I do like his daughters 'Whip My Hair' and so didn't want to hate poor Jaden straight away. What's funny is that Jaden Smith might be just like a mini Will Smith, but I already think he's a better actor than his dad has ever been. It sounds strange, but I felt completely engaged with his character and what could have ended up quite cheesy actually felt rather sincere. Jaden isn't afraid of taking a knock, looking like a twat and generally being a bit wet but with that fight inside that he wants to unleash. People forget that it is that idea of spiritual self-defense that is mirrored through kung-fu, his battle isn't physical at all but rather his coming-of-age, of defeating his demons and being appreciated as an adult, the tournament is a weird Bar Mitzvah of sorts. This remake doesn't lose that essence, but instead reinforces it with a fish-out-of-water, scared kid in a completely different world trying to fit in. It's taken the idea of maturing into the foreign adult world by making it more literal - and it works.

As much as Jaden surpasses my meagre expectations by taking his self-assuredness of his dad and mixing it with a touch of humility whilst still showing off some impressive stunts for a kid, the real heart of the story is Chan. You have to love Chan. Here he is a disheartened old man that must himself learn to abolish his inner demons and you feel he has been truly battered by life and lost that will to carry on. Instead he is merely falling from one event to another until Jaden snaps him out of it and gives him 'focus'. It's a rather sweet story, without being drenched in cliche, of a father/son relationship. It's clear Jaden is missing a father figure (which is never discussed, something I feel didn't need explanation in today's kids films where every kid watching must be treated like an idiot, so a definite plus) and at the same time Chan is missing a son figure, it's something that works without seeming too cheesy, a delicate balance that it maintains throughout.

There are a few minor complaints, it's clearly meant for kids so the love story feels quite innocent, but collapses into cheesy montages quite often associated with similar children's films, but it can't be blamed for that. Neither can it be blamed for making the tournament's scoreboard look like something from the future, also with camera angles from angles we've just seen (if that makes sense, and also where are the cameras when they pull out?). Neither can it be blamed for it's simple story, it's these simple stories that work best, it didn't need anything more convoluted. However, kids jumping over walls is a bit much and even though there's a lot of training, I do wish there had been a bit more fighting as what Jaden did was impressive, but I just wish I'd seen more of it - and of course, more Chan action.

Chan's training makes just as much sense as Miyagi's back in the day, it's simple unassuming chores building up muscle, skill sets and yet also teaching respect that gets to the heart of the story. Jaden does need to learn to grow up (the jacket being a constant symbol of this) and his mother, played wonderfully by Taraji Henson, adds the light comic relief. The love interest is more to do with his love of Chinese culture, she's just a symbol, albeit a pretty one, and even though it might seem to add to the quite long running time, I think it fits quite nicely and never at any point did I think it went on too long.

Another slight issue is that it sometimes feels like a tourist video for China, all the landmarks look wonderful, everything looks great and it's never portrayed in a particularly negative light, and if so there is usually an element of redemption by the end. Having never been, I can't say what it's like, but I imagine it doesn't quite fulfill the Hollywood gloss this has, but then, what ever does?

Chan said he'd do it if it was called The Kung-Fu Kid but the stupid studios changed it back to The Karate Kid. Why bother? The people who remember the original would be older than me now (the original was released in 1984) and by calling it The Kung-Fu Kid (as it was anyway in some places) would have been indicative of it's clear progression from a standard remake. The studios missed a trick there, and hopefully they won't make any sequels but just leave it for the nice little gem of a kid's film that it is. In the grander scale of overall cinema, it might seem quite a low score, but I would think that if you go in with an open mind, you'll come out pleasantly surprised. I certainly was.

Rating: 7/10

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