Rewind Review: Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate Kid, the remake not the original. Now that that’s been cleared up we will just focus on the film at hand. The film starts on the precipice of the major change that will forever alter Dre’s (Jaden Smith) life. He is in his room and we look at milestones in his life and lines on a door frame marking his height. The camera passes one marked “Dad died.” A tad clumsy but also accurately childlike and at least it’s a visual conveyance of information, which this film does strive to do on more than one occasion. Dre re-measures himself and is much taller than the last time he even bothered and they are on their way to the airport to fly to China.
The film takes the gamble that knowing only the situation you will throw yourself in and meet and get to know them along the way and for the most part it works. It starts on the flight where Dre’s mother (Taraji P. Henson) is trying to get Dre to practice Chinese as she has been practicing because she has been transferred, he is resistant to change. The first big joke of the film is set up here and the timing on the lines, all shot in one take, is great. In fact, all of the comedy, when it is inserted, is very well-timed and helps the film greatly.
The cultural dislocation is immediately felt and a predominant theme in the film where even turning on the hot water for a shower becomes a difficulty in a strange land. You also get here a protagonist who is actually portrayed as average in the beginning and it’s believable. He makes a friend and goes to play basketball and is terrible is whipped at table tennis by an old man, he is confident enough to walk up to a girl when challenged but is also awkward and shy when he gets there.
This is a film that also does take its time and most of the time it is quite right to do so. It establishes Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) as a man who is reticent have any involvement with Dre or anyone. It firmly establishes Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his gang as an ever-present threat. The only time the film suffers in any way from its deliberate pace is at the start of training. Dre has spent three sessions taking off, throwing down and hanging up his jacket and twice misconstrues the meaning of it before Han reveals his design to him, however, the scene in which Han shows him what all this repetitive action was about is riveting and again much of it taken in one moving shot.
The film is usually at its apex when Mr. Han is instructing Dre particularly when he is explaining to him what Kung Fu is and isn’t and specifically that it is “in everything we do.” It is a film that is extraordinarily respectful of the discipline and illustrates that is indeed a discipline.
The romantic subplot of this story which is that of Dre and Meiying (Wenwen Han) is intrinsic to the story and not an afterthought which is actually a breath of fresh air. It is Meiying’s interest in Dre that first gets Cheng angry at him and causes their first fight. Mei Ying and Dre also invest in each other’s success and their night at a festival leads to some nice crosscutting, use of shadows, puppets, great lighting and a humorous and sweet kiss. The only part of their relationship arc that is a little hard to deal with is that when they are having a day of fun she receives a call that her audition was moved up a day. Granted you know something is going to ruin their fun but it felt a bit too contrived.
The acting in this film is nothing short of spot on. Jaden Smith is not only an affable actor who is easy to identify with but he’s funny and his emotional scenes are great as he cries twice but out of much different emotions, namely frustration and sympathy. Jackie Chan should not get the short shrift either this may be his best role and not only because he got to do scenes in his native tongue but also because he was given a character with a gruff exterior who slowly mellows and lets someone in but is also someone who has a skeleton in his closet and breaks down upon confessing it. The scene where he tells his story and Dre sheds sympathetic tears in listening  may be the strongest of the movie.
The tournament sequence is very effective overall in terms of dramatic content and fight choreography. The winning blow is amazing and the film performs the rare feat of earning a freeze frame ending. The only thing in the sequence that’s a bit off is the introduction of a third party challenger, which in an of itself is fine but he looks and is shot like he’s a Crazy 88s reject and that kind of comedy takes you out of the moment a little. Other liberties work like the very professional-sports jumbotron with photos and instant replays.
Despite a few minor annoyances and problems The Karate Kid most definitely succeeds in telling an uplifting underdog story that should be as likely to inspire the current generation as much as the original version did a previous one.