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Fred Brutalized by The Karate Kid

Published June 11, 2010 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders
The Karate KidThe Karate Kid
Do kids still get bullied today? I honestly don’t know. I figure if someone’s a social outcast, they just find a solitary outlet online or have helicopter parents to solve their problems for them. I guess that kind of atmosphere only breeds more anger, which I guess is what the new Karate Kid is about.

Review: The Karate Kid


The kids seem far more brutal than the teenagers of my Karate Kid. It’s the sound effects they use now, but also those kids are vicious. They are the kung fu villains of Bruce Lee and Jet Li movies. Not even the funny bad guys of Jackie Chan movies. Of course, Chan can fight kids with class and taste. He doesn’t hit them. He only embarrasses them, and makes them hit themselves. And, he can teach kids to do the awesome moves he does. He makes Jaden Smith look like he can win, not just with Chan going easy on him.

They reference the chopsticks the first time you see Chan as Mr. Han, but they don’t do it Miyagi style. It’s as if to tell you, “Hey, all that stuff you know, we’re not doing that.” They do follow the plot pretty closely. Mr. Han realizes that the bullies’ teachers is a hatemonger even he can’t fight, so he has to enlist Dre (Smith) in a tournament to give him any chance of learning to defend himself before the next inevitable fight. At this point, I’m invested. The stakes are high. I’m a 32-year-old man but I’m scared for Dre, and Han. I think that’s the credit of the basic archetype, that it will always work in any generation.

The evil teacher has a darker connotation now. It’s one thing for John Kreese to teach teenagers evil Cobra Kai style. They have the maturity to make their own decisions. This guy is teaching toddlers. He’s basically a hatemonger and that is real and relevant. I wish they had shown the evil teacher more. That’s an interesting character, some middle aged guy who gets off on teaching 12-year-olds to kill each other. He disappears during the training section though.

Mr. Han starts with seemingly menial tasks, though not the same ones as Mr. Miyagi. He lays a solid foundation that should impact the kids watching. The training tasks actually go back to 36th Chamber of Shaolin and probably earlier. There are no water buckets on Dre’s shoulders, but there’s mud jumping, splits and pushups. Han’s flame healing is cool and he speaks profound catch phrases too. There’s also a lot of subtitled Chinese dialogue. Kids will have to read so it’s educational too.



Now you know this is about Jackie Chan teaching kung fu to Jaden Smith, but the working title Kung Fu Kid didn’t sound remaky enough so they went back to Karate Kid. I’ll give you that karate isn’t cool anymore now that kids know Jackie Chan, Jet Li and MMA. I figured the way to do it would just be to have him in karate school in America, but when he moves to China, they only teach Kung Fu so he has to adapt. That’s pretty close to how they get away with it. He watches a karate show on TV and tries to learn, although if they air karate lessons on Chinese television, why isn’t there a dojo in town? It might as well be a kid who’s seen the original The Karate Kid, wants to fight back like that movie, but lives in China so he has to go with kung fu.

It’s all shaky handheld camera, which is typical of modern movies now. It’s not nauseating, but it just feels lazy. Why don’t you decide what you’re going to film instead of making it up on the fly? It’s kind of a shame that this era of movies is going to be marked by that style.

It’s a little too precocious, showing off like kids do, but it’s sweet enough. There are some pacing issues, like not only the teacher but the bullies are gone for the whole middle of the movie. There’s also gratuitous Dance Dance Revolution. They call it G-Move in Chinese arcades, but Smith isn’t even stepping on the arrows when it’s his turn. Come on.

The only part I really didn’t like was the dark backstory of Mr. Han. That felt like some modern Holywood B.S. where they have to make the serious part really serious so you feel something because they’ve told you what to feel. It’s just gratuitous. The bond between Han and Dre was good enough. I was actually okay with the opening shot where you see Dre has marked his dad’s death on the same growth chart as all his other childhood milestones. Every good kids movie needs a dead parent.

Actually, the part I really wondered about was Dre’s mom (Taraji P. Henson) going along with the tournament. The mom of a teenager can’t really stop him, but I could see the mom of a 12-year-old going to the American embassy screaming, “Uh-uh, this country has kids kicking my boy in the head so there better be some legal repercussions or we’ll be talking about extradition to Gitmo!” She seems proud of her boy though.

I’ll never watch this again, but then it’s not my childhood this time. And there were no outtakes of Jaden Smith messing up his Jackie Chan training. All we get are behind the scenes photos, but Will and Jada do show up in a few of them.

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