Karate Kid – A major disappointment
By Bill Glasheen
Having seen this movie on the first night, here are my impressions.
* It isn’t karate. It’s kung fu. Correction… it’s mostly Wu Shu. Gone is the authenticity of the original movie, where virtually all techniques (except for the stupid crane thingie) were real and the pedestrian teaching methods ingenious. Now we have flash replacing real self defense. It’s Hollywood without a soul.
* Jackie Chan sold out being part of this movie. He’s a genuine physical genius. And yet we have just one fight where he takes on a gang of 13-year-olds. Okaaay…
* There’s nothing original about the plot. It’s a re-make of Karate Kid. Wax on, wax off becomes take the jacket off, hang it up, throw it down, pick it up. And as far as physical motion goes, it doesn’t transfer. I’ve used “wax on, wax off” to teach Uechi principles, as I have paint the fence and the house. But the clothing thing? It’s empty movement. There’s no effort involved in hanging a jacket up. Okinawan karate was about taking SERIOUS physical movement (farming and fishing), and transferring those body mechanics to martial movement. There’s no caffeine involved in lifting a coat.
* I know I’m going to offend people when I say this, but… What’s up with the fat chick in the Master Cho’s Taequondo Academy uniform hawking Korean martial arts in the lobby? To start with… this physical wreck of a human being needed a tailor. The obvious commercialism made me want to take a bath when I walked by her. And when they approached my 11-year-old son… Big mistake. Don’t send a girl out to do a woman’s job. And don’t send The Michelin Girl out to sell a commercial venture that’s supposed to be about fitness. (They’re certainly NOT about self-defense.) And the fashion statement? Don’t get me started.
* Gone is the charm of Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio. The movie is all about Jaden Smith’s acting debut. Ten years from now, people will be forgetting that it was a martial arts movie, and remembering that it was Jaden’s debut. Will Smith used martial arts, and gave nothing in return.
* What’s with the chi reference? Jackie Chan writes the character on the window of a train. And then of course they can’t really deliver on what “it” is. They could have skipped that entirely. But I did chuckle with Dre Parker’s (Jaden Smith) predictable “Star Wars” and the force allusion.
* The fight scenes in the tournament (yes, the plot is almost scene by scene a copy) were fun in a gymnastic sense, but I wasn’t inspired.
* Dre Parker (Jaden) is a kid and not a teenager. He doesn’t really pull the part off very well.
On the plus side…
* The movie makes my Snowball thread appear ingenious. Those involved in embellishing the plot get what I see in terms of the many benefits of music.
* The “swarming of the wolves” scene where the kung fu academy students hunt down Dre Parker was authentic, creative, and pulse-throbbing. This leads up to the predictable scene where Jackie Chan takes on the gang and then offers to teach young Dre Parker. Well done!
* Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) as the bully kid in the “bad” martial arts school steals the show (IMHO). His acting is almost as good as his martial skills. I wouldn’t be looking for “best supporting actor” awards, but his acting and his martial prowess save an otherwise bad movie. Look for him in future martial arts movies.
* The context of a family having to move from a depressed Detroit auto economy to a vibrant China auto industry was both poignant and… interesting. Wink
I’m not saying don’t see it. But I will say that the entire experience was a big disappointment. I remember how pleasantly surprised I was after seeing Karate Kid with my UVa martial arts buddies. This was as disappointing as that was surprising. And the movie is eminently forgettable.
It’s so bad that I guarantee someone will re-make the re-make. The opportunity is out there for the next generation. And this trio of movies will make for interesting material in some future college film class.
On a final note… The movie will probably do well anyhow. But not all commercial successes are works of art.