Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P Henson, Zhenwei Wang
Premise: Dre Parker is dragged off to China when his mom gets transferred. When he shows interest in a girl there, he becomes the target of a bully and his passe. Getting beat up and embarrassed several times in public, Dre tries to get revenge on his own rather than go to anyone for help. While successful, this ploy still backfires, and as the bully takes things too far he is saved by Mr Han. Yet in trying to get the bullies to quit by visiting their kung fu teacher, Dre instead finds himself being signed up for a Kung Fu tournament.
Review: When doing some quick research to prep this review, I came across something so basic that I missed it made me have a "I could have had a V8" moment. The original Karate Kid and this new remake neither have to do with the actual art of Karate. Both use disciplines from Kung Fu. Yet in all this time after all the hundreds of Kung Fu movies and other martial arts films I've watched, it never registered. Doh!
Anyway, lol, major kudos in the movie for Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, and Zhenwei Wang and his passe. Truly lots of good acting was to be had here. Loved to see Jackie Chan pushed to ooze out his talent in more than just martial arts. He had a lot of very subtle touches for expressing the inner things he was dealing with way long before we found out what had wounded his spirit. But the subtlest thing he did was a total homage to Pat Morita and his role of Mr Miyagi in the original Karate Kid. And how did he do that? Watch the way he walks. It's not Jackie's usual way but that of Mr Miyagi's played by Pat Morita. For super fans, a very squeeable moment. lol.
For Zhenwei Wang, who plays Cheng, you can tell how good he is when you see him as himself during the credits. Night and Day folks! Cheng is full of hatred and it so radiated from this kid, it was eerie. Eek! Some great emotional bits from some of his friends too. Stuff that totally transcended the language barrier.
Jaden Smith also did a great job. You can see a lot of his father in this film. He's going places. Even better, I loved how you could see his body change as he progressed in the training. And not just from what was scripted.
The film itself is a little slow at the beginning, but nothing terrible. You do see China as it is, the old and the new. Not a spruced up version for a movie. So the realism was very nice and appreciated. Plus they take us several places which were fun to see like the Forbidden City (I wanted MORE!), the Wall of China, even a cool remote monastery. Some very visually stunning shots.
Because they took longer, they were also able to make this story version quite complex. The amount of sub stories were amazing to me. Yet if you weren't paying attention, they were also easy to miss. The film was quite deep. They handled things like being new to a foreign country, fighting fear, obsessions (many facets of this were explored), the influence of teachers on students and how it truly can shape their students, focusing on a goal, sometimes to the person's detriment, familial expectations and how they can crush our own desires. Also the nuances of what kung fu stands for and how it can be warped. Respect both earned and forced. People's capacity for self destruction. This sucker was chocked full of stuff.
The fights during the tournament and elsewhere were kick-ass. And of course it would not be a true kung fu movie without some Chinese mysticism thrown in, which we got a bit of through some ancient medicine practices and also the cool monastery. We even get some culture thrown in and one of China's more famous legends.
My biggest disappointment was they never tell us if Meiying made getting into the school or not! Argh! I wanna know! (You get a feeling she did from the judges faces, even as the disapproval glared from her teacher, but still. I wanted confirmation darn it!)
The movie won't slap you with awesomeness, but will still nicely satisfy. If you notice some of the hidden gems along the way, even more so.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars