Tuesday, 10 August 2010
The Karate Kid
If you want a popcorn movie with cod Confucian philosophy thrown in, then The Karate Kid is for you. The original 1984 version passed me by and I would not have gone to see this remake if it had not been for the persuasive powers of my six year old nephew. I'm glad I did - for a bit of a lump-in-the-throat-kick-ass action on a wet day in London this did it for me. Admittedly, the screenplay could have been written on the back of a pack of Marlboro Lites. A widowed mother and her son, Dre Parker, move to Beijing because of her job. Dre is smitten by an English speaking Chinese girl who plays Bach violin solos. Unfortunately, Dre is bullied by a gang of thugs who are trained in the shadow side of kung fu by a brutal dojo whose motto is "No Fear! No Pain! No Mercy!". But, in the flats where Dre lives works a maintenance man, Mr Han, who just happens to be a kung fu master. And, well, the rest is a lot of jumping around, gurning and fake pearls of oriental wisdom, such as, "stillness is not the same as doing nothing" and "Life will knock us down, but we can choose whether or not to stand back up."
Yet, it works because Jackie Chan as Mr Han crafts a neat little performance with flashes of real emotional intelligence. Chan is not afraid to portray this kung fu master with a middle aged spread and as bruised, not only by kung fu opponents, but by a life of bereavement. Dre becomes his surrogate son and unlike the kinetic action sequences, the development of this relationship is given the time to resonate at a deeper level. Jaden Smith (the son of the actor Will Smith, who is also one of the film's producers) turns in a performance that is 50% cool and 50% balsa wood. Like father, like son.
I enjoyed the gratuitous tourist shots of China: the Great Wall of China, the Olympic Birds Nest Stadium, etc which will have had employees of the Chinese Tourist Board rubbing their hands. I enjoyed the schmaltz, the spirituality and the puppy love romance. It's not Kill Bill, but I did flinch at the kung fu bullying inflicted on Dre (my nephew didn't bat an eyelid) and whooped (well, internally) with the rest of the audience when the baddies were defeated by the forces of virtue. Yes, the moral of this tale is that friendship, discipline and mercy make for the good life...but it helps if you can give your enemy a good kicking at the same time. So not quite the Nicomachean Ethics, but certainly a little more fun.