The new “Karate Kid,” starring the frisky Jaden Smith and the charming Jackie Chan, is closely modeled, sometimes right down to camera angles and dialogue, on the 1984 hit starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.
That film came out of the rah-rah “Rocky” era, when underdogs always won (even if they didn’t). This may sound like our era, too, except that, in the movies, this particular formula is in semi-hiatus. The latest “The Karate Kid” will probably work best for young audiences unaware of its predecessor – or of much of anything else for that matter.
In this version, the 12-year-old boy, Smith’s Dre Parker, moves with his widowed, job-relocated mother (Taraji P. Henson) from Detroit to China, where he immediately warms to a cute violinist schoolmate (Han Wenwen) and is pounded by the local bully (Wang Zhenwei).
He doesn’t, however, experience much culture shock. Dre, though intelligent, seems remarkably uninterested in the ways of the Chinese, except, of course, for kung fu. (The film should really be called “The Kung Fu Kid.”)
He prevails upon Mr. Han (Chan), a somewhat dissolute, aphorism-spouting handyman, to teach him how to defend himself. (It’s a disappointment that Chan does very little fighting here.)
The usual learning curve montage ensues, and Dre eventually ends up in the big local kung fu tournament, complete with instant replay, as he faces off for the championship against – are you ready for this? – the bully.
The pummelings that Dre endures leading up to this match are disturbingly violent, and so is the tournament finale. It’s all a bit much.
Dre’s doting mother, for example, despite the occasional grimace and gasp, cheers him on as if he was vying for a volleyball championship. Wouldn’t she be a wee bit more horrified? I realize this is not an overwhelmingly reality-based movie but still.
Especially in this kidpic genre, doesn’t a realistic depiction of violence demand a realistic response?
Grade: B- (Rated PG for bullying, martial arts action violence, and some mild language.)
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