Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Karate Kid (review)

Enter the Draggin’

“Karate! Kung fu! Whatever!” says Mom. Exactly! Who cares what the Asian ass-kicking is called. Not important! The important thing is that the cute little American kid will teach the Chinese ignoramuses a thing or two about their own culture. Stupid foreigners!

No, it’s true. Jaden Smith (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Pursuit of Happyness) is the adorable and small-for-his-age 12-year-old Dre Parker, who moves with Mom (Taraji P. Henson: Date Night, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) from Detroit to Beijing because, well, that’s how the floundering U.S. car companies are dealing with the collapse of their industry: transferring their employees to China. Instantly — no, really, like the minute they land — Dre is getting beat on by teenage Chinese bullies led by the horrifically one-note Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) because Dre has the nerve to like-like violin-playing Meiying (Wenwen Han), and inappropriate likage of the female always brings out the male’s protective instinct, or something. Also: All Chinese girls play the violin. Dre gets a crapload of crap beaten out of him, to the point where it starts to get real uncomfortable: do people actually want to see a little kid take this kind of thrashing? (Director Harald Zwart [Agent Cody Banks, One Night at McCool’s] seems into making sure we know just how much physical abuse this kid is taking… but maybe he figures we like abuse after sitting through his Pink Panther 2. It’s a theory, anyway.)
Dre would totally be into learning some proper kung fu, you know, for self-defense, but apparently there is only one kung fu school in Beijing, and it’s where Cheng is already a student. Imagine the coincidence! Also, it’s a bad school because the mean-faced instructor there is teaching Cheng and his mean bully friends a sort of cruel fu in which the students have to shout, over and over again, things like “No mercy!” and “We’ll totally kill Will Smith’s adorable son, just see if we won’t!” So Dre has absolutely no choice — as I said, there are no other martial arts schools in Beijing, not a one — but to learn karate! kung fu! whatever! from Jackie Chan, who is the maintenance man in Dre and Mom’s new apartment building, a shabby place that suggests that Mom is no exec at this auto company and so why was she worth transferring to China in the first place?

About 12 hours into this honking cup of weak tea, Chan (The Spy Next Door, Kung Fu Panda) finally gets to be Jackie Chan(TM) — instead of doing stuff like fixing the shower in Dre’s apartment — by beating up on Cheng and his friends. Which is sorta sad. I know Chan is getting old, but kung fu-ing kids? For shame. Another hour later the movie itself actually starts, when Chan agrees to train Dre by nagging at him to pick up his jacket and telling him things like “Everything is kung fu.” Which isn’t actually reflected in the movie or anything, but it sounds good. After a few hours more, we learn why Chan is so sad, except we hadn’t actually noticed that he was sad prior to this, but perhaps it seemed like a good time to throw in some Oscar-clip-ish melodrama. Or maybe screenwriters Christopher Murphey and Robert Mark Kamen (Kamen wrote the 1984 script for the film of the same name, and also Taken and the Transporter movies) suddenly realized that the movie was not padded out with sidetracking nonsense enough, and without this detour there was no way they could reach their apparent goal of ensuring the film is 187 hours long.

Anyway, then the obnoxious score swells to let you know that an emotional epiphany has been reached. And then comes the inevitable training montage — it’s got all the Rocky-style stuff you expect, except the consumption of raw eggs — at which point you realize that, damn, there’s gotta be at least another half an hour of movie to go still.

And there is. But don’t worry: Chan will enunciate the moral of the movie, in case you hadn’t already been kicked in the face with it, and then Dre will parrot it back to him at a moment deemed appropriate, for those in the audience who’ve fallen into a coma — it’s something about getting back up on a horse, except it sounds more Chinesey. Eventually, Dre will make certain that Cheng and his mean-faced teacher understand that their cruel fu is contrary to Chinese wisdom and stuff. Go America!


MPAA: rated PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Funwithheadlines

    So…you liked it?

  • AvgJane

    I was wondering if anyone would comment on the weird Yellow Scare-ish vibe that I picked up in the trailer. Dre hits back at the mean ol’ Commie kids by re-introducing them to the fruity mysticism that encompasses the “real” China.

    So much that doesn’t make sense…Karate and Kung Fu are two different things…Mom the working-class expat…and didn’t one of the Rocky movies have a “beat-’em-on-their-own-turf” theme with the enemy du jour, the Soviets?

  • Rykker

    Enter the Draggin’

    HA!

    Yes, I am most definitely easily amused. :)

  • Holy Confucius, that was a great review. Having once been a Chinese kid, I still crack up at the idea of Chinese bully kids.

  • Kat

    I admit the trailer looked as if maybe this would not turn out quite as bad as one might think (I even read a halfway sensible explanation for the karate/kung fu muddle)… but the bit about only one kung fu school in Beijing kinda crushed that hope to dust. And I take it the movie has an epic length, or at least feels that way – he!

  • Tom H

    Does anyone else think that The Kung-Fu Kid also has a better ring to it? Nope just me? ah well.

  • ow

    We were able to see this at a private screening for Asians. My guess is cuz they want Asians…specifically Chinese to support this movie. Why would they want Chinese folk to say good things about the movie? Well, maybe cuz Chinese people really hate kung fu being mistaken for karate…and that Chinese folk really are not bullies and are known to be “Model Minorities” in America…and that the Chinese girl gets taken by the non-Chinese guy…and that the Chinese gets beaten up by someone that just learned Kung Fu in a few months? Other than that, it was a fun movie to watch and there were some scenic scenes in beautiful China. I love Will Smith and I love Jackie Chan. In fact, I’m connected with the both of them. Can’t give my full endorsement of the movie though it was worth watching for free.

  • Chuck

    Dre Parker moves … with Mom from Detroit to Beijing.

    Daniel LaRusso moves with Mom from New Jersey to California.

    Dre is getting beat on by teenage Chinese bullies led by … Cheng because Dre has the nerve to like … violin-playing Meiying.

    Daniel is getting beat on by teenage preppy bullies lead by Johnny because Daniel has the nerve to like cheerleader Ali Mills.

    Dre would totally be into learning some proper kung fu, you know, for self-defense, but apparently there is only one kung fu school in Beijing, and it’s where Cheng is already a student. Imagine the coincidence! Also, it’s a bad school because the mean-faced instructor there is teaching Cheng and his mean bully friends a sort of cruel fu in which the students have to shout, over and over again, things like “No mercy!”

    Daniel would totally be into learning some proper karate, you know, for self-defense, but apparently there is only one karate school in Reseda, and it’s where Johnny is already a student. Imagine the coincidence! Also, it’s a bad school because the mean-faced instructor there is teaching Johnny and his mean bully friends a sort of cruel-do in which the students have to shout, over and over again, things like “Mercy if for the weak!”

    So Dre has absolutely no choice … but to learn karate! kung fu! whatever! from Jackie Chan, who is the maintenance man in Dre and Mom’s new apartment building, a shabby place that suggests that Mom is no exec at this auto company and so why was she worth transferring to China in the first place?

    So Danniel has absolutely no choice … but to learn kung fu! karate! whatever! from Pat Morita, who is the maintenance man in Daniel and Mom’s new apartment building, a shabby place that suggests that Mom isn’t working the high tech job she expected moved to California for. Why move across the country to be a waitress?

    After a few hours more, we learn why Chan is so sad, except we hadn’t actually noticed that he was sad prior to this.

    After a few hours more, we learn why Morita is so sad, except we hadn’t actually noticed that he was sad prior to this.

    From your review it really sounds like this movie hangs together about as well as the original, with the exception of the (apparently) mishandled intercultural aspect. What is it that makes this one not worth watching while the original is? Is the new one lacking the level of warmth and heart that made the original work or does making the non-white non-American characters the bad guys too much to overcome?

  • Martin Sane

    Jaden Smith beaten up by Chinese bullies? Sounds like a just punishment to me after his “performance” in “The Day the World Stood Still”.

  • stryker1121

    So Jaden Smith gets off the plane, and proceeds to get has ass kicked by bullies at baggage claim. That’s terrible.

  • I knew a lot of engineers who worked for western companies in Taizhou (if you draw a line from Shanghai to Beijing, then Nanjing to Seoul, South Korea, that’s where it is). They lived in huge apartments with the best of everything, because they had Western salaries but paid Chinese prices for everything. So imagine your life if your spending power went up x7 overnight. One of them had an apartment with a chandelier.

    Plus Dre would be going to an elite private school (assuming he tested high enough) with so much homework the Chinese parents would have to carve out time for martial arts, and typically the mothers are sitting outside the classroom gossiping, being overprotective of their only child, and instantly wisking him or her off home after class to do math. And for kids it would probably be a Tae Kwon Do class (yes, Korean, I know, but I’ve seen more ads up for those classes than any other art). Plus, there seems to be a higher percentage of girls in martial arts in China than in America (judging by the schools I’ve peeked into), in part because basketball and football have become the hot sports.

    And Dre is a westerner. If a bully beat him up the Chinese teachers at school would nip that in the bud so fast the movie would be over before you finished your popcorn. And it’s so crowded, Dre would never, ever be alone (even the alleys are crowded with mom and pop stores and diners) so there would always be witnesses and probably adults around to protect him.

    It sounds like Meiying playing the violin is the most realistic part of the movie. Classical music training (Western or Chinese) is popular here, if you’ve got the money.

  • JosephFM

    Chuck gets it right.

    The original Karate Kid is actually a really bad, ridiculous movie. People have fond, nostalgic memories of it, sure, but it’s actually pretty terrible. To say nothing of the sequels.

    This remake may add to that insult with a terribly unrealistic and obnoxious depiction of China and Chinese people, and with confusing entirely unrelated Asian martial arts. But lets not pretend it’s not, mostly, true to the stupid spirit of the original.

  • Okay, guys. Intellectual snobs. The movie does what it is supposed to do. Not about being realistic, certainly not obnoxious, but it doesn’t matter. The movie stirs the heart and there are lessons to be learned, but it is not history! Give it a rest.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Can someone explain to me what’s so bad about being an intellectual snob? I mean, being an actual snob is bad, because it involves discriminating against someone based on something they can’t help, like their socioeconomic status. But being an intellectual snob just means you don’t like things that are shit. What’s the next insult going to be, “you quality racist”?

  • Actually, racist implies that race is a factor, but “nazi” as a slang term has entered the common weld so perhaps we could use the world “quality-nazi” instead.

    PK: how do you learn lessons from false premises? Perhaps Dre interacting with actual Chinese instead of Chinese kids acting like Americans would have been more interesting?

    I have mixed feelings about snobbery. I don’t watch most TV simply because I think it’s dumb, especially and ironically the news, but my thought process usually ends there. A snob takes the next step and thinks people who watch those shows are inferior, and is therefore a snob.

    But then there is the issue of the subjectivity of qualitative standards, the one man’s wine is another man’s poison theory of art. One of the hardest things for me to do as an artist, when thinking of other people’s art, is to decide if I don’t like something for subjective or objective reasons. I”ve had to learn to seperate the two when I try to give other writers advice about their work.

  • But so-and-so Nazi (for example, quality Nazi, grammar Nazi, safety Nazi, etc.) is such an overused trope. Granted, it’s probably easier to say than Quality Mongol or Quality Inquisition. Then again, I’m willing to bet good money that nobody expects the Quality Inquisition.

  • baek

    “does making the non-white non-American characters the bad guys too much to overcome?”

    It’s the status quo to make the asians the bad guys in Hollywood. It’s having Asians as well rounded human characters that seems to be too much for you to overcome.

  • Tonio, that’s because surprise is their greatest weapon, that and knowledge. Surprise and knowledge.

    And taste.

    Taste, yes. The greatest weapons of the Quality Inquistion are surprise, knowledge, and taste.

    And critical perception…

  • It’s having Asians as well rounded human characters that seems to be too much for you to overcome.

    Who is “you”? If Hollywood execs are reading this forum, they certainly aren’t admitting it…

    On a related note, I went to see Agora (excellent film, by the way) and saw a trailer for Mao’s Last Dancer, about the Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin who defected to the U.S. in the 80s. The film isn’t out yet in the U.S. so I can’t comment on it, but it does have an Asian main protagonist who seems to be more than a 2-dimensional, cliche-ridden portrayal (at least from what the trailer shows).

    Then again, it’s an Australian film, so I’m not giving Hollywood any credit for this one. :-)

  • JoshDM
  • LaSargenta

    I think

    Quality Inqisitor

    should be MaryAnn’s new tag line!

    :-D

  • JoshDM

    Did you know Jackie Chan HATES Karate Kids ?

    Well, he does.

  • Chuck

    It’s the status quo to make the asians the bad guys in Hollywood. It’s having Asians as well rounded human characters that seems to be too much for you to overcome.

    You must be watching different movies than I am. Most of the villains in the movies I watch are British, or at least have a terrible British accent. =)

    This is by no means an objective survey, but thinking about movies with Asian heroes and villains, most of them with Asian villains also have Asian heroes too. Of course, I’m thinking mostly 80s movies here like Big Trouble in Little China. Dennis Dun stole the movie, I ought to watch that one again soon, I think it’s sitting on the shelf over there…

  • Drave

    I enjoyed this much more than I was expecting to. I feel like it shows quite a bit of devotion to everything that made people love the original, but also has its own things to say. Not a lot to say, mind you, but it stands on its own. The original is one of the first movies I can remember watching with my dad, and it still remains one of my favorite movies of all time, but the pedestal people put it on is made of pop-culture, not of quality.

    As for the name, I have heard conflicting reports on that. All of them agree that the original title was meant to be The Kung Fu Kid. Half of them say the producers pushed for using The Karate Kid because of name recognition, and the other half say it was because another company already owns the domestic distribution rights for a property called The Kung Fu Kid, and said company was asking too much for the name. Either way, I can be mad at the suits that made the decision and still enjoy the movie.

  • Jake

    HAHAHA! Oh, wow! Kid, listen, this isn’t freaking Doubt. It’s The Karate Kid. If you’re looking for depth and a movie that makes you think, you’re looking in the wrong place. The point is to experience a simple heart-warming story. I always love it when people write tripe such as this to prove some type of compensatory superiority on a movie that’s not meant to be anywhere near the level they are analyzing it at. You must be a blast at parties.

  • MaryAnn

    HAHAHAHA! Oh, wow! Listen, kid, *Doubt* isn’t even *Doubt.* Though I’d love to know how you find the heartlight in tripe like *The Karate Kid.* I always love it when people defend crap by actually acknowledging that it’s shallow-as-shit crap. You must be a blast at intellectual roundtables.

  • spaghetteve

    It’s Avatar, Dances with Wolves, Last Samurai (excuse me while I fall into that coma you mentioned)… all over again.

  • Boingo

    posted by JoshDM (Mon Jun 14 10, 11:11AM)

    Wax On, F–k Off, The Ralph Macchio Story

    http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/c8ad4aa802/wax-on-f-ck-off-with-ralph-macchio

    I didn’t expect it to be THAT funny!

  • JeeseeCa

    There are some Chinese schools in Beijing that have “international sections” for foreign students. I don’t know how many Americans send their kids to the international sections of those schools. They charge foreigners more for tuition than Chinese.

    I guess they try to explain it by having Dre too embarrassed to admit he’s being bullied, but they have the principal character, Mrs. Po, figure things out and ward off Cheng when possible (on the bus when Cheng stares at Dre to try to intimidate him, Mrs. Po looks at Cheng to tell him to knock it off, and he turns away), so instead the bullying happens off campus.

  • JeeseeCa

    It’s the funniest hyperbole ever

  • JeeseeCa

    Another thing to point out was the Chinese themselves were involved in the production of this movie: one of the production companies is Chinese.

  • JeeseeCa

    The movie has a different title in China than in the US. The producer of the movie, Jerry Weintraub, was the same guy who produced the original movie. Weintraub’s the one who insisted on the title “Karate Kid”.

  • JeeseeCa

    The Chinese themselves were involved in the making of this movie: one of the production companies is Chinese. So I don’t think the Chinese thought too badly of the movie.

  • JeeseeCa

    In which way did the Chinese kids in the movie not act Chinese?

    One note: the Chinese themselves were involved in the making of the movie. One of the production companies was Chinese.

  • JeeseeCa

    In which way was it unrealistic and obnoxious? By the way, one of the production companies was Chinese, so, yes, the Chinese themselves were involved in the making of this movie.

  • You’ve posted this comment multiple times. Please don’t do that.

  • JeeseeCa

    Ms./Mrs. Johanson, while I understand your point in the repetitiveness:

    The reason I posted it multiple times was because of the structure of this forum: to “reply” to the sentiment of “this is not valid towards Chinese culture” to each and every person who said that. I can’t let each and every person who made that sentiment know that without posting multiple times. If the software had a way of “multi-reply” with a single post that would be great. The point was to tell all of them this: “If the Chinese thought this was so culturally insensitive/wrong, they would have stepped in and stopped it, or they don’t mind whatever inaccuracies there are, and they don’t have a problem with it” and I want to make sure each and every poster reads that.

    You get a notification on your account if someone “replies” to a post, and I wanted to tell all of them. The reader isn’t likely to come back and read it unless they get a notification somebody replied. If they don’t get this notification, they never think to come back and check the thread.

  • Bluejay

    However, the posters that you replied to do not have active registered Disqus accounts (which is why their names, like mine, are in gray). They won’t get notified that you replied to them. And since they made their original comments four years ago, I highly doubt that they will be coming back to this review. In the meantime, newly arrived readers will simply see that you’re making the same comment multiple times. Repeating an argument verbatim tends to annoy people and makes them less receptive to your message.

    You could just post one comment, at the beginning of this thread, summarizing what you’ve seen other commenters say and then making your counterargument once. Everyone who comes to this review will see it.

  • You don’t need to explain to me how Disqus works. I know how it works. But clearly you do not, since you didn’t realize the posters you are responding to will not get any notification.

    Bluejay explains beautifully the best way you could have approached this situation.

  • JeeseeCa

    I see. I guess I didn’t think to click the names. I realize this one allows you to “post as a guest”. I guess I’m used to the other Disqus forums which do not give you this option. In those ones every name has the possibility of being notified.

  • Bluejay

    Even if it’s possible to notify each poster, it’s bad form to post multiple identical comments. It makes you look like a troll who wants to have the same repetitive argument with multiple people. Just post your opinion ONCE, at the top of the thread. Everyone reading the review will see it, and anyone who wants to have a discussion with you can do so.

Pin It on Pinterest