June 17th, 2010
It was a gorgeous morning last Sunday here in the capital of Canada. Under glorious sunshine, it was a pleasant 18°C. So, naturally, I spent it inside, in the dark, at the South Keys Cinemas taking in THE KARATE KID (2010) with my new Mainland pal Jerry and his 8 year-old kid Alex.
Regular readers will know that the James The Red Engine stink face pretty much sums up my attitude going into the movie. To combat my prejudices, I brought along Jerry, who brings a fresh set of eyes because he has not seen the original, and Alex, who is in one of the film’s target demographics. Alex was the reason we were at the theatre at 10:45 in the morning. He had a soccer game at 3 pm and, with the movie clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, the 8:10 evening show would have encroached on his bedtime.
After the show we went to lunch at Harvey’s where, thanks to my lavish Kozo Entertainment Group expense account, we all had fries with our burgers. Actually, KEG bean counters be damned, I passed on the fries and went straight for the added extravagance of onion rings along with the most expensive item on the menu: the grilled chicken sandwich.
In between bites, I asked Jerry and Alex for their opinions of the movie. Alex gave it a “thumbs up” but he complained that it was boring at times. Indeed, Alex was noticeably restless during the Qixi Festival sequence and the Jackie Chan “Look At Me, I’m Doing Serious Acting” sequence. He also flinched during the two scenes where Dre (Jaden Smith) got beat up by the bully and his henchmen. For a movie that is somewhat geared towards kids, it’s hard to fathom why director Harald Zwart opted to show such surprisingly brutal fight scenes.
Unlike his son, Jerry gave THE KARATE KID (2010) a “thumbs down”. Based on my description of the original, he said that he expected the movie to be “like ROCKY” - moving and inspirational. Instead, he thought the film was flat and superficial. A resident of Beijing for four years while he studied chemistry — or was it chemical engineering — at one of the city’s universities, he was bothered by the local inconsistencies that he noticed throughout the film. Referring to the sequence where Dre and his young lady friend Meiying (the delightful Han Wenwen) have a day out in Beijing, Jerry said: “I don’t think the general public is allowed in some of those places”.
The Wudang Mountain sequence also bothered him. Jerry: “You can’t get there and back (to Beijing) in one day!”
In addition, he was irked by the fact that the Qixi Festival usually takes place in August yet, later in the film, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) marks a significant anniversary on June 8th.
While I’m confident that the incongruities Jerry noticed will not be an issue for most viewers, I do agree that THE KARATE KID (2010) does not pack the same emotional wallop as the original. I’ll admit that I got a little verklempt during some of the Dre-Meiying scenes (What can I say? I’m a sap.), but other “emotional crescendo” moments left me cold. The problem is that there isn’t enough setup for the payoffs so when the big moments happen (like Dre winning the tournament or Mr. Han reconciling himself with the past) they fall flat because they haven’t been earned.
Imagine a comedian who just reels off punch lines without any set up. “No soup for you“, “not that there’s anything wrong with that” or “master of your domain” are meaningless bereft of context. Without revealing any spoilers, there are many moments in the remake that are supposed to stir the emotions of the audience but end up leaving them bewildered because they haven’t been established properly. I suspect that the powers-that-be were relying on people having seen the original because many of the “big moments” are call backs. I think viewers were supposed to think “ah, this is like when Daniel-san found out about Miyagi’s wife and son” or “ah, this is like when Mr. Miyagi helped Daniel-san woo Ali”. As a result, for people like Jerry who haven’t seen the original, the scenes do not resonate as much and the emotions seem shallow.
Having said that, I’ll cast my lot with 8 year-old Alex and give THE KARATE KID (2010) a “thumbs up”. It’s a good time at the movies. Two hours and twenty minutes breezes by as Jaden Smith and Han Wenwen deliver very likeable performances. Also, the Wudang Mountain sequence yields some spectacular shots. I still firmly believe that the remake was unnecessary but like the Russian Premier in that other 1980s classic, ROCKY IV, I stand up and applaud because I can appreciate the effort.
I’ll be back next week with some spoiler-filled thoughts on the film. In the meantime, I have to file an expense report with the KEG bean counters. I can picture the conversation now: “You have just the one rear end and the one set of eyes, why did you need THREE tickets?”