The Karate Kid 功夫夢
Contemporary martial arts drama
2010, colour, 2.35:1, 140 mins (US)/132 mins (China)
Directed by Harald Zwart
By Derek Elley
Tue, 22 June 2010, 20:02 PM (HKT)
Beijing-set remake of the 1984 film looks lush but is dramatically bland and culturally problematical. Popcorn audiences.
Beijing, the present day. Some time after the death of his father, 12-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) move from Detroit to Beijing, where Dre enrolls in the multi-cultural Beijing Middle School. Bullied by fellow student Lu Weicheng (Wang Zhenwei) after he shows an interest in music student Chen Meiying (Han Wenwen), Dre is taken under the wing of apartment handyman Han (Jackie Chan), a martial artist still grieving for his late wife and son. After Han beats up Lu and his friends when they again bully Dre, Han apologises to Lu's master, Li Quanhe (Yu Rongguang), who then challenges Dre to take on his pupils at a forthcoming tournament. Han sets about teaching Dre Chinese kung-fu and a sense of discipline.
Given the global prominence of China, and the massive popularity of U.S. actor Will SMITH there, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood connected the dots and Smith (& Family) were involved in a remake set there. As popcorn entertainment for audiences who still want to see lushly-shot Chinese vistas, Jackie CHAN 成龍 once more playing the oriental card, and a cross-cultural story between a street-cool black kid and a wise middle-aged Chinese master, The Karate Kid 功夫夢 (2010) is pretty successful, with smooth packaging by Dutch-Norwegian director Harald ZWART. On any other level, it's somewhere between dramatically sloppy and culturally problematic.
The 1984 original, directed by John G. Avildsen, worked as a totally California-set, high-school movie; but by moving the 2010 remake to China, a whole set of cultural problems come into play — not least the actual title. (The film's Chinese title actually means Kung-fu Dream.) The script, which adheres to the original's basic dramatic structure, kind of gets round the problem by briefly showing the young hero, Dre, practising karate before Jackie Chan's master promises to teach him "real Chinese kung-fu". More problematically, as Dre's bullies are (by necessity) all native Chinese, the story boils down into yet another Hollywood movie in which an American jets into a foreign country, ingratiates himself with a local girl and (eventually) her family, sorts out a local problem (school bullying), and is applauded for it by... the locals. None of this seems to have worried American audiences, to judge by its spectacular take-off at the U.S. box office in mid-June.
By becoming a vehicle for Smith's (then 11-year-old) son Jaden SMITH, the film digs several holes for itself. Where the romance between Ralph Macchio's Daniel and Elisabeth Shue's Ali in the original was a believable teenage one which helped the drama, here it's just platonic puppy love between Jaden's Dre and HAN Wenwen 韓雯雯's violin-playing Meiying — hardly sufficient to provide much motive. If Dre had been written less as a flip American and more as a multi-culti one who was trying to adapt, the relationship could have had more traction.
Though here he emphasises his handyman character's age, and in one fight sequence (the best in the whole movie) he shows he still has the moves, Chan plays the same comic-sympathetic card as in all his other U.S. pictures. With the help of his natural flexibility and smart editing, Smith makes an okay martial artist but an unlikable central charater. As the bad guys, YU Rongguang 于榮光 is reduced to a one-note bystander and WANG Zhenwei 王振偉 (as his young pupil) an unmotivated bully. Han Wenwen (actually three years older than Smith) has a nice smile but not much else, and should have been revoiced for clarity in her English dialogue.
The final tournament is distractingly shot in rapidly-cut, handheld closeups, which make any appreciation of the kid's new skills difficult and far less dramatic. British d.p. Roger PRATT's widescreen photography looks gorgeous but its saturated colours make summertime Beijing look like a southern rather than a northern Chinese city. And — at least in the slightly shorter China print — no reason is ever given for Dre and his mother to move halfway around the world from Detroit to Beijing.
ContactSales: Columbia Pictures, Los Angeles
Theatrical release: US, 11 Jun 2010; China, 22 Jun 2010.
Presented by Columbia Pictures (US). Produced by Jerry Weintraub Productions (US), Overbrook Entertainment (US), China Film Group (CN). Executive producers: Dany Wolf, Susan Ekins, Han Sanping. Producers: Jerry Weintraub, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Lassiter, Ken Stovitz.
Script: Christopher Murphey. Original story: Robert Mark Kamen. Photography: Roger Pratt. Editing: Joel Negron. Music: James Horner. Production design: Francois Seguin. Art direction: Second Chan. Set design: Yang Zhanjia. Costume design: Han Feng. Sound: Steve Chan, Steven Ticknor. Action: Wu Gang. Visual effects: Rocco Passionino, Garrett Lam (Zoic Studios, Menfond Electronic Art, Beau Studio). Second unit: Doug Coleman.
Cast: Jaden Smith (Dre Parker), Jackie Chan (Master Han), Taraji P. Henson (Sherry Parker), Han Wenwen (Chen Meiying), Yu Rongguang (Master Li Quanhe), Wu Zhensu (Meiying's father), Wang Zhiheng (Meiying's mother), Wang Zhenwei (Lu Weicheng, the school bully), Jared Minns (Dre's Detroit friend), Lu Shijia (Liang), Zhao Yi (Zhuang), Zhang Bo (Song), Luke Carberry (Harry), Cameron Hillman (Mark), Ghye Samuel Brown (Oz), Rocky Shi (Ur Dang), Heidi Wang (Mrs. Po), Harry Van Gorkum (Music teacher), Guo Xinhua (Tournament doctor), Zhai Jijun (Mat 4 referee), Li Shun (Mat 5 referee), Wu Yanyan (Mrs. Xie), Ji Tao (Announcer), Jing Chen (Chinese speaker on plane), Liu Wentai (Man from Detroit), Liang Geliang (Ping-pong man).