Sunday, June 20, 2010

Movie Review # 1: The Karate Kid

I don't plan on doing a lot of movie reviews on this blog, but I just saw the new Karate Kid movie with my wife's family in California, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

If you don't know the basic story of The Karate Kid then I'm ashamed to call you a fellow human, but here's a basic rundown anyway:  Little kid is weak, gets beat up all the time.  Little kid meets old chinese martial arts master.  Training sequences.  Little kid beats up rivals in an organized martial arts tournament. The end.

This new version of the 1984 classic was pretty true to that basic storyline, but with some interesting twists that, in my opinion, allowed this film to surpass its predecessor(s) by great lengths.  Moving the setting to China was one of the most intelligent ones.  This allowed the movie to tap into a lot more of the mysterious, ancient kung-fu feel that the original only hinted at.  Even simple, brief additions such as a field trip to the Forbidden City added so much to the film's atmosphere.

There were some surprisingly intense and exciting action sequences.  Many of the scenes towards the beginning, where Jaden Smith (Will Smith's son--Will Smith is also one of the producers of the film) was getting his trash kicked, were gut-wrenching.  I expected the rest of the film to follow Jaden's training and righteous revenge cycle . . . and it did, but with some very unexpected surprises.

First of all, the movie was actually pretty funny.  Whether because of banter between Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, a dance-off in a Chinese arcade, or a number of other scenes, I found myself laughing along for much of the way.

But what the new Karate Kid did that was lightyears ahead of its predecessor was to make me forget about the physical conflict in favor of an emotional one.  I'll freely admit, I enjoy a good fight scene in a movie or literature as much as (and usually more than) the next guy.  But emotional conflict, involving relationships and people's feelings, is where the meet of any story really is.  And this movie surprised me by making me forget about the physical conflict for a time and focus on the relationship between Jaden and Jackie Chan's character (which, in my opinion, is one of Chan's best performances to date).  The way the two characters interact and grow together was pleasantly surprising, and both actors did a great job at showing the progression.  There were one or two parts where the movie was trying too hard to emphasize the emotion, but overall I thought it worked very well.

And, once Chan and Jaden overcome their obstacles, there are some pretty sweet mini-kung-fu fights, albeit overshadowed by a ridiculous Street Fighter-like big screen scoreboard and replay screen.

I'll mention again the surprisingly good performances from Chan and Jaden Smith--I think these two really carried the movie to new heights.  Jaden's Chinese crush-interest doesn't do too shabby of a job, either.  The writing was already not half bad, but they made it even better.  And, although I can't help but feel that the movie was one big birthday present for Jaden Smith, it was still a fantastic remake.

I'm worried about the damage sequels may do to this surprisingly good remake, but for now I'll just bask in the movie's success.

My Rating:  * * * * * (5/7 stars)

No comments:

Post a Comment