The Karate Kid (2010) review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Hollywood makes edible fare out of another sacred 1980s classic...
The whys and wherefores of Hollywood remakes have been discussed to death and once we accept the, admittedly believable, assertion that actors and directors want to bring the films they loved as teens to a new generation, the appeal of the almighty dollar seems the overriding influence. But even if we grudgingly accept that remakes, reboots and reimaginings are going to happen, whether we like it or not, the potential for changes to a movie we cherished is still frightening. Home Alone could be remade and the paintpot-to-the-face gag and infamous 'aftershave scene' could be recreated without too much offence. But would a new version be able to wield the same emotional firepower as Roberts Blossom's portrayal of the misunderstood elderly next door neighbour?
A Jurassic Park reboot could use James Cameron's Volume Motion Capture platform and create lifelike revived dinosaurs but would never be able to match the awe audience members shared with Sam Neill's Dr Alan Grant when his gaze rose up a tree trunk only to discover a living, breathing Brachiosaurus. Back to the Future could be given a 3D update, but a new take might fail to capture the original's perfect mix of humour, sci-fi and romance. So it's with great apprehension that twentysomethings will encounter The Karate Kid, Sony's remake of the 1984 underdog classic.
"The new version won't leave fans of Daniel-san furious, nor threaten in anyway the cultural impact of John G Avildsen's original"
Thankfully, the new version won't leave fans of Daniel-san furious, nor threaten in anyway the cultural impact of John G Avildsen's original. Well-made by Agent Cody Banks director Harald Zwart and driven by the comfortable chemistry between Jackie Chan (Mr Han) and Jaden Smith (Dre Parker), it certainly belongs in the reimagining category, with the action transported from California to China, the hero's age reduced by a good six or seven years and the native Kung-Fu used rather than Japanese karate (causing the film to be titled The Kung Fu Kid in China and the curiously literal Best Kid in Japan).
Chan is at his most sympathetic in years, reining in usual tendency to mug for the camera, while Smith's swagger and sad eyes prove that he could emulate his father one day, with an impressive stillness for a 12-year-old. Zwart and screenwriter Christopher Murphey also take the sensible decision to tip a cap to the original without entirely repeating its steps. The action centres around a bullied newcomer, with a father figure mentor and a tournament climax and the villainous Fighting Dragon Kung-Fu school (retaining the black uniforms of 1984's Cobrakai) again attempt to defeat our hero by unfair means. The wise old instructor offers unusual lessons and catchphrases while schooling his young ward - though "put jacket on, take jacket off" probably won't follow "wax on, wax off" into popular parlance - and the elder's motivations for teaching the teen are grounded in grief.
But eagle-eyed fans of the original might flinch at the changes and the film could also fail to satisfy those uninitiated with Mr Miyagi's teachings. The sneering 2010 bully Cheng is no match for the source's Johnny Lawrence, a peerless 80s movie-villain with his feathered blond hair, country club membership and dirt-bike riding. While Ralph Macchio's Daniel Laruso was on the cusp of manhood, Smith is barely into his teens, meaning his strength and that of his bullies feels unrealistic and never as humiliating as the blows dolled out in the original. Smith's also far too young for his intended love story with violinist Mei Ying (Wenwen Han) to convince and a second act romantic interlude is tiring and off-putting. And while the Open Kung-Fu Tournament follows the same pattern of events as the All Valley Kung-Fu Tournament, the 2010 filmmakers look to differentiate their Karate Kid from the source in bizarre fashion. Dre might be fighting with one leg just as Daniel-san had before him, but the spinning headkick with which he inevitably triumphs is a move we've seen before and which should be beyond him - in the original, Daniel's crane kick was a graceful blow he had copied and learnt from his sensei.
"This new take on The Karate Kid is, however, well shot, likeable and powered by an authentic father-son arc between its two leads"
This new take on The Karate Kid is, however, well shot, likeable and powered by an authentic father-son arc between its two leads. The Chinese tourist board are also presumably delighted with the clean and modern portrayal of Beijing and the evocative shots of the Forbidden City, Wudang Mountains and Great Wall. It's 20 minutes too long and fails to recapture the coming-of-age tone and magic of the original but it wouldn't be surprising if a new generation of youngsters are as inspired by The Karate Kid as their twentysomething relatives were in the 80s.
The Karate Kid opens in the UK July 28th
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