Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Karate Kid - Dir. Harald Zwart

In today’s Cinematic world of constant lifeless reimagining’s and underachieving sequels, it is refreshing to see for once, a well-made, proficient remake which still manages to restrain the positive values and engaging nature of the original. Harald Zwart’s ‘The Karate Kid’ brings the original film into the twenty-first century by using one the most recognised contemporary Asian actors of the last thirty years, and a rising star who is currently heavily overshadowed by his father, and allowing them both to flourish in a respectable and worthy remake. While the only substantial and somewhat controversial difference between the two films is the fact that despite being named ‘The Karate Kid’ in the majority of Western countries, the location of the film and the actual martial art displayed both descend from Chinese culture, unlike the martial art of Karate which is a descendent of Japanese culture. Yet, it must be noted that this ‘cultural controversy’ does not detract away from the true nature of the film.

Xiao (Little) Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Taraji Henson) decide to get away from things in Detroit and start a new life, with a new culture, in Beijing, China. Once they land in the Middle Kingdom, Dre attempts to settle in by making friends with the local children, and while there he notices the young violinist Mei Ying (Wenwen Han). But his hormones fluttering is not his only problem, as the local bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) notices his affection for Mei Ying and humiliates Dre by using his superior Kung Fu skills to hurt the young boy. After he undertakes various beatings, Dre is eventually helped by the mysterious maintenance man of his building in Mr Han (Jackie Chan), who demonstrates his superior Kung Fu skills to a mesmerized Dre. After this, the film’s plot almost mimics the original 1984 ‘Karate Kid’ film to the tee with both man and boy becoming ever closer in the three months Dre has to train before he battles the sadistic bully Cheng at an upcoming Kung Fu tournament.

While on the surface, the film concentrates upon the use of martial arts to contain, and defeat those who attempt to bully and hurt Dre, its underlying theme is of perseverance as both Dre and Han must fight through the past to create their own futures. Dre is young boy in a foreign land, unable to understand, or become truly part of society, while Han is tormented by the mistakes of his past, however through their father-son surrogate relationship; both are able to battle their inner demons head-on. And it is the actors performances which bring this motion picture truly too life. Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan take centre stage in this remake, and both deliver fantastic performances, especially Chan, who portrays the traumatised maintenance man who is scarred beneath the surface, perfectly. While despite a strong act from young Jaden, he is slightly hampered by the fact that his character is only twelve-years old, rendering the majority of the pre-puberty romantic scenes between himself and Mei Ying meaningless despite their emotive beauty.

Alongside the acting, the cinematography of the film at times borders on breathtaking as director Harald Zwart, Editor Joel Negron and Cinematographer Roger Pratt take their time to appreciate the splendour of the Chinese landscape and communicate this cultural veracity to the audience. The sequences filmed on the Wudang Mountain exemplify this beauty as the frame is constantly filled with sights and sounds, no doubt foreign to the Western audience watching, as the camera casually glides above to capture the scenery. This beauty is however lost in the last twenty minutes of the film as it moves forth into the tournament stage, the soft, classical music is exchanged for exuberant rock and roll and the editing mirrors that of a American music video; a noticeable blip, on an almost magnificently shot film.

What constantly drives the film forward, aside from its technical aspects, is the fact that the Sensei/Mentor (Father/Son) relationship between Dre and Mr Han works so perfectly. The scenes they share together will make you laugh, cry, smile, frown, and ultimately feel all warm and fuzzy inside, while the scenes of eye-opening martial arts provides an element of excitement to somewhat balance out the dramatic nature of the film. Whether you enjoyed the original ‘Karate Kid’ film or not, I would still recommend this film to audiences of all ages who appreciate more than heavy explosions and repetitive action sequences.
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