Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

Written by Joe the Revelator

Wax on, Wax off.

There is no Mr. Miyagi. There’s none of the angst and pain of entering a new high school, and consequently, adulthood. There is no dojo. In fact, it’s not even karate. It’s kung fu. So why would a respectable Jackie Chan movie bear the title The Karate Kid?
Because we’re American, it’s marketing, and we don’t care.
Calling it a Jackie Chan movie isn’t altogether fair, either, since the freakishly talented Jaden Smith has far more screen time and fight scenes. And the only fisticuffs involving Jackie Chan take place in a back alley where his character, the sullen Mr. Han, beats up a pack of school bullies who are hounding his potential student.
Of course he turned the bullies’ attacks so they’d beat themselves up, so Smith explains, more to ease tensions in the audience than as a reflection of martial arts. Maybe it’s the slew of Jackie Chan movies on the shelves that feature him kicking gangsters in the teeth and jumping through shopping carts, but seeing him put the same moves on children has an awkward, almost comical quality to it. The ‘quit hitting yourself’ argument doesn’t really work when you’re using joint locks and throwing kids into each other. Or does it?

Most of the movie marches to a familiar tune; a young family is transplanted to a new home in a foreign land (China) due to family hardship. They quibble. They cry. They fight. But underneath the struggle lies the deep love that is found between a caring mother and her good-hearted son. There is childhood romance and enriching cultural messages of tolerance and understanding, and even a few genuine emotional moments; which are a bit unexpected from a high-budget reboot of an older franchise that dated itself so badly it can barely be taken seriously anymore.
Gone are the chest-thumping pop-collared thugs of the original Karate Kid, jamming to boom box tunes from atop their menacing dirt bikes. They’ve been replaced by 12-year-olds in modest school slacks and Chinese uniforms. And although the fight has moved away from the California beaches onto the playgrounds of Beijing housing tenements, the youngster’s brawls are no less brutal. In fact, pound for pound, the tykes that persist in harassing Smith’s character deliver punches and kicks as well as any adult, circling each other like starving survivors from Lord of the Flies. I’ve never myself inquired about kung-fu tournament rules in China but I assume they’re outrageously lenient, since chops and roundhouse kicks to the face and neck are rewarded with points scored. And the final championship-winning kick looks like something Colonel Guile from Street Fighter would do.
Despite the violence, which isn’t as frequent as it may seem, the movie often reminds us that it’s a friendly story. It immerses us in beautiful Chinese landscapes viewed from a rolling train, serene mountain waterfalls and temples where the masters train, traditional festivals and shows, and a few glimpses into better known landmarks and wonders. Even Mr. Han’s dingy, scrap-strewn house manages to look quaint and humorous with its rigged furnishings.


If you consider yourself an adult and your hand is still hovering over the DVD box, then you might do better picking up a copy of the original Karate Kid or a Jackie Chan flick like Legend of Drunken Master. But if your kids are screaming in the back seat, if you’re curious about yet another Hollywood reboot, or if you just like to watch kids get punked UFC style, pick this up.


  1. In your opinion: best martial arts movie ever? Best Jackie Chan movie ever? I'm always looking for more jaw-dropping and hilarious martial arts flicks. Currently, Iron Monkey tops my list for sheer insanity =)

  2. So many to name... For art, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Then there's Seven Samurai, just because it's a great classic. And if you want quasi-ridiculous, Master of the Flying Guillotine. Kung Fu Hustle I think will go down as a cult classic in its own right too.