Friday, June 11, 2010

THE KARATE KID (2010) / ***½

Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Release Date: June 11, 2010
Genre: Action Drama
Running Time: 126 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

The original “Karate Kid,” with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, is one of my favorite moves of all time. I watched it often as a child and when I rediscovered it as an adult I realized that it isn’t one of those childhood movies that aren’t as good as you remembered them – it’s better.

That being said, at first I wasn’t all that excited about a remake. No, I’m not one of those schmucks that think any time something is remade it “ruins the original,” as if the fundamental properties of the original film have been somehow changed. It’s just that every other movie these days (or more) is a remake, reimagining, sequel, prequel, reboot, or something that required minimal thought to put together. But then I saw the trailer for “Karate Kid,” and even Dan Hoag admits that it’s a good looking trailer.

Writers Christopher Murphey (screenplay) and Robert Mark Kamen (story) are extremely faithful to the original film, but also put their own spin on it. Instead of moving from New Jersey to California, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson) move from Detroit to China. This gives the film a cultural dynamic that helps the film stand on its own two feet.

Dre is immediately targeted by Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), a vicious kung fu student who is taught by the even more vicious Master Li (Rongguang Yu). At first Dre is willing to fight, but after a pretty severe beating he starts avoiding Cheng, as most 12-year-olds would do in the face of a bully.

Of course Cheng won’t go away, and another confrontation is imminent. On the verge of being disfigured, Dre is rescued by Mr. Han, the maintenance man at his building. Mr. Han reluctantly agrees to teach Dre Kung Fu.

The setup is as basic as could be, but it was a great story in 1984 and it’s a great story now. Smith and Chan have an infectious chemistry together; the same can be said for Smith and Wenwen Han, who plays is love interest Meiying. It’s quite shocking that the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett would have charisma and a dynamic presence at the age of 12 (but not really).

In addition to being an engrossing, well acted story, the location gives the film another color to paint with. Cinematographer Roger Pratt (Oscar nominee for “The End of the Affair,” also shot “Troy,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) has some truly beautiful locations to work with, like the Forbidden City and a sacred mountain that contains one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Nothing in director Harald Zwart’s (director of such clunkers as “The Pink Panther 2,” “Agent Cody Banks” and “One Night at McCool’s”) “Karate Kid” is surprising; what is surprising is how well it all works. It’s a film that’s really about something. I came out of the film with more respect and admiration for the art of Kung Fu.

This is also a movie about kids. It understands kids and it respects kids. I screened this film twice, and kids sat still and didn’t make a lot of noise during this two-plus hour film. Many “kids” or “family” films aspire to the lowest common denominator (“Old Dogs” I’m looking at you), but “The Karate Kid” has the temerity to treat its audience with respect.

And yes, the movie really should be called “Kung Fu Kid,” but I’m okay with it.

Theater: AMC Oakview 24, Omaha, NE
Time: 730 pm
Date: May 27, 2010 (promo)

Theater: Marcus Theaters Village Pointe 16, Omaha, NE
Time: 730 pm
Date: June 3, 2010 (promo)

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