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Where EAST meets the Northwest

COMEBACK KID. Harald Zwart’s The Karate Kid, a remake of the iconic 1984 film, holds true to the original: A fatherless boy relocates with his mother to a new city, manages to attract the wrath of the local bully and his gang, and learns how to defend himself from an unlikely teacher. The remake features Jaden Smith as Dre Parker (left) and Jackie Chan as Mr. Han. (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

From The Asian Reporter, V20, #18 (June 21, 2010), page 14.

The Karate Kid remake is good summer fun

The Karate Kid

Directed by Harald Zwart

Produced by Jerry Weintraub, Will Smith,

Jada Pinkett Smith, James Lassiter, and Ken Stovitz

Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Now playing at area theaters

By Julie Stegeman

The Asian Reporter

Underdog versus bully. At its heart, The Karate Kid, a remake of the iconic 1984 film, holds true to the original: A fatherless boy relocates with his mother to a new city, manages to attract the wrath of the local bully and his gang, and learns how to defend himself from an unlikely teacher.

The films diverge in their locations. In the remake, Dre, played by Jaden Smith, moves with his mother from Detroit to Beijing, where not only does he have to start over at a new school where he knows no one, but he has to learn a new culture, language, cuisine, and way of life. Even tasks such as getting hot water for the shower or lunch from the school cafeteria present a challenge. To complicate his life further, Dre angers Cheng (played by Zhenwei Wang), a school bully who gangs up on Dre with his friends.

Unfortunately for Dre, the group is proficient in kung fu and succeeds in making his life miserable. A mere 12 years old (as opposed to the original film’s 16-year-old hero), it is particularly tough watching Dre being tormented and beaten up.

Relief, however, comes in the form of the apartment’s maintenance man and unexpected master of kung fu, Mr. Han, played by Jackie Chan. After witnessing a group beat-down of Dre, Mr. Han — himself no stranger to life’s hard knocks — agrees to teach Dre the honorable art of kung fu. His methods are in stark contrast to Cheng’s instructor, who believes in an aggressive fighting style that teaches mercy is merely a weakness.

The film retains a lot of the feel of the original, an uplifting and fun summer flick with a message that life will knock you down, but you can always make the choice to get back up again.

Chan and Smith have good on-screen chemistry and Smith does a credible job with his role, including the action scenes. Chan’s portrayal of Mr. Han is understated in a good way, and although he only gets one opportunity to really display his legendary fighting moves, he makes the most of it and it is pure cinematic fun.

The cinematography of the film is quite stunning at times. It provides a feeling of life in crowded and bustling Beijing and highlights a few beautiful locations in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and a gorgeous mountain temple.

Detracting from the film is its length. The Karate Kid, clocking in at more than two hours, could have benefitted from judicious editing of some of its slower-moving and too-drawn-out scenes, which make the movie drag in the middle. This is distracting, particularly for the younger viewers who are the movie’s target audience.

The plotline involving Dre’s love interest, a pretty Chinese violinist and fellow classmate named Meiying (played by Wenwen Han), is a bit clunky and doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the film.

However, at its best, The Karate Kid remake draws in the audience, enabling it to empathize with a boy having a hard time fitting in; to watch him become a better fighter and, at the same time, a less self-centered and more conscientious person; and to cheer him on when he faces his tormenters in the film’s final showdown.

In other words, to quote a group of tweens leaving the movie screening, "It was awesome!"

The Karate Kid is playing at theaters nationwide. To learn more, visit <www.karatekid-themovie.com>.