June 4th, 2010
With THE KARATE KID (2010) set to hit North American movie theatres in a week, the publicity machine for the film is starting to hit top gear. Since it has yet to be screened for critics, the early press has been mostly positive because it’s just been the people behind the movie who have been talking. Will Smith and his family appeared on Oprah last month and, earlier this week, producer James Lassiter spoke to The Los Angeles Times.
Last Friday, a review appeared on Ain’t It Cool News declaring THE KARATE KID (2010) to be a “worthy successor to the previous incarnation”. On Monday, Todd Brown at Twitch said the movie was “better than good”. Also on Monday, Gregory Ellwood at HitFix.com speculated on why it might be “June’s breakout hit”.
All of this positive buzz has created a bit of a conundrum for me. Going back to February 1996 and the North American release of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, the only Jackie Chan movie I haven’t seen during its opening weekend was THE SPY NEXT DOOR - and that was mostly because I wasn’t a 7 year-old kid. However, I was going to skip THE KARATE KID (2010) next week in favour of THE A-TEAM. Based on the trailer that I saw before IRON MAN 2, THE A-TEAM looks like it’ll be a whole lot of fun while my pre-conceived notions for THE KARATE KID (2010) are not compelling me to rush out and see it. My pre-conceived notions:
1. There are only really two legitimate reasons to remake a movie. The first is technology now exists to update it. It’s like putting a new coat of paint on an old house. There’s nothing wrong with the house but it just may look better with a new coat of paint. See KING KONG (2005) and CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010). The second is a remake set in a different culture than the original. Keeping the premise but putting it in a completely different setting gives people the opportunity to explore the original themes and ideas from a different angle. See DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2010), THE DEPARTED (2006) and TORTILLA SOUP (2001) - the thoroughly enjoyable Hispanic remake of Ang Lee’s EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN.
Otherwise, remakes are usually just tepid versions of their originals because it’s hard to live up to the challenge of competing with the legacy of the originals while establishing a new identity, a new raison d’être. See: THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (2009), THE INVASION (2007), THE WICKER MAN (2006), PLANET OF THE APES (2001), PSYCHO (1998) and THE PINK PANTHER (2006).
THE KARATE KID (2010) faces a similar problem. From the fish-out-of-water premise of the “Joisey” kid moving to California to the “You’re The Best Around” montage to the over-the-top bad guys (”Get him a body bag! Yeeaah!”), the original KARATE KID is great because it has a unique combination of cheesy chemistry. Re-creating that chemistry is a “lightning strike twice” situation, not impossible but highly unlikely.
2. Will Smith is producing the movie. On the upside, “Big Willie Style” means a big budget and excellent production values. On the downside, Smith casting his son Jaden in the lead screams “vanity project”.
3. I’m obviously not in the target demographic for this movie. I’m not a child and I’m not a parent of a child. The original had a 21 year-old Elisabeth Shue as the “compelling hot babe”. The “love interest” for 11 year-old Jaden Smith is played by a similarly young Chinese actress named Han Wenwen. Definitely not — unless you’re under 12 years old - “compelling hot babe” material.
4. As I don’t want Skynet/the Cylons to keep track of my web surfing activities, I have my browser cache and cookies cleared before I shutdown my computer. Consequently, I lost a link to an article from earlier this week where someone wrote that the Jaden Smith-Jackie Chan relationship in the movie serves as an allegory for how America needs China and China needs America.
“Child, please”, as Chad Ochocinco would say.
Before this week, all of these pre-conceived notions had me leaning towards going to see THE A-TEAM next weekend instead of THE KARATE KID (2010). However, after being subjected to the Sirens’ call of the publicity machine, I started thinking that I might have to check out THE KARATE KID (2010) first. Then, I read this whopper of a quote from producer James Lassiter in The L.A. Times article “‘Karate Kid’ update breaks down some Chinese walls”:
The people run the country. So if people didn’t want you shooting in their neighborhood, there’s no authority that can tell them they have to. That’s why it’s called the People’s Republic of China.
Like a splash of cold water to the face, that quote snapped me out of the stupor created by the publicity machine. Yes, GeekPadre and Todd Brown gave positive reviews but, like early returns on election night, that doesn’t mean anything. I’ll wait until other critics get a chance to see the movie but unless reviews are overwhelmingly positive, I’m probably waiting until a cheap night Tuesday or a second-run discount theatre or possibly even a video rental before I see THE KARATE KID (2010).
Only my brain, with its bothersome thinking and dilemmas and conundrums, is compelling me to see the remake. My heart is telling me I’ll have a much better time at THE A-TEAM. “Don’t think! Feel!”, noted 20th Century philosopher Bruce Lee said in ENTER THE DRAGON. THE A-TEAM it is.
Images credits: Samuel Goldwyn Films (TORTILLA SOUP poster); 20th Century Fox (THE A-TEAM publicity image)