Friday 19 November 2010

The Karate Kid (2010) [Blu-ray]

Friday 19 November 2010

DIRECTOR: Harald Zwart
WRITERS: Christopher Murphey (story by Robert Mark Kamen)
RUNNING TIME: 140 mins. BUDGET: $40m
The 1984 original is a childhood touchstone for me; a movie I revisited in adulthood a few years ago, surprised to find myself still engaged with its coming-of-age tale about a teenage boy defeating bullies, gaining a surrogate father, and finding first love. The 2010 remake was a project I couldn't help being cynical about during its development, and while the resulting movie isn't an insult to the '80s classic (surpassing the original in a few ways), it ultimately fails to match its predecessor.

The story remains largely intact: a half-orphaned boy, Dre (Jaden Smith), moves with his mother (Taraj P. Henson) to a new town (Beijing, China), has trouble adapting to his new life, develops a crush on a local girl, Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han), finds himself the target of a bully, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), and is later taught how to defend himself by Mr Han (Jackie Chan), a modest handyman who knows Kung Fu. In this remake, parts of the story are strengthened by reasonable changes (the culture-shock of emigrating from Detroit to Beijing provides a more exotic setting and canvas), but the story is weakened by appealing to a younger crowd (casting a 12-year-old boy cripples the love story element, reducing it to cutesy puppylove).

Jaden Smith (son of celebrity couple Will Smith Jada Pinkett-Smith) has clearly been given the lead through nepotism, but he's fairly likeable and you grow to respect his physical commitment to the role. The skills of original stars Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita were always laughable (how Daniel made it to the tournament final, I'll never know), so the remake benefits from the fact Smith's clearly an athletic boy who's done the training, while Chan has obvious credentials when it comes to screen violence.

Jaden Smith in The Karate Kid: Sony Official Site

Chan's character may lack the iconic feel of Morita's Mr Miyagi (with his buff suit, pidgin English, and Sphinx-like expression), but he nonetheless acquits himself very well. In fact, this is probably the best performance of Chan's career to date, as it relies far more on acting than speaking lines in-between kicking people in the face and falling out of high windows. The guy's in his mid-50s now, so giving him a contemplative part that benefits from his reputation, but doesn't require him to do many stunts (beyond a skirmish where Chan uses kids as weapons against themselves), is one of the best ideas in this remake's head.

But while the premise and Chan prevent the whole thing from seriously derailing, The Karate Kid proves a flop in other areas. The bullying Cheng is a wonderfully creepy antagonist who dishes out nasty beatings, but his motivation isn't as sharp (stubborn jealousy that Mei likes Dre); said romance between Dre and Mei is excruciatingly mawkish (even for 12-year-olds); Master Li (Yu Rongguang) is a poor counterpart for Martin Kove's nasty dojo master in the original; and how Dre develops muscle memory, by repetitively taking his jacket on-and-off, isn't handled as well as seeing his predecessor perform a variety of household chores (paint the fence, sand the floor, wax the car, etc.)

However, the fact remains the premise of The Karate Kid (the adolescent underdog overcoming obstacles in his life by finding strength with himself) is a very potent staple of many cinematic stories, and this remake does a competent job whenever it's holding the original's coattails. Harald Zwart's direction isn't astonishing, but it's career best for him, and the photography of China's is as rich and evocative as you could hope. If nothing else, the scenery and vibrancy of Beijing is captured nicely, just as the Chinese authorities demanded of the production in exchange for allowing them such access.

Overall, if you're old enough to have seen the original (ideally in the '80s) and it's since become one of your childhood memories, this remake will have you breathing a deep sigh of relief. It isn't terrible, it's just only ever great when it's following the original's lead without straying off-course. If you have no connection to the 1984 version, I daresay you'll enjoy this on its own merits. Fundamentally, it's still telling a time-honoured story you can't help but respond to on some level, which is its greatest strength.

Jaden Smith & Jackie Chan in The Karate Kid: Sony Official Site

Blu-ray Review

Picture (2.40:1, 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC) I always find movies with beautiful scenery offer the best HD experiences, and this Blu-ray does a great job showing us the magnificence, colour and texture of Beijing and China. Detail is great (check out Jaden's hair braids), blacks are deep, colours pop, and everthing has a beautifully filmic look.

Sound (English DTS-HD MA 5.1, French DTS-HD MA 5.1) An immersive audio experience, with resonant dialogue and nice use of the rear speakers to bring the hustle and bustle of Beijing to life in your livingroom. It's quite a surprise, actually; nuanced, nimble and immersive.

Special Features

Chinese Lessons: In this feature, you can learn various Chinese phrases by having the disc launch you to relevant points in the movie where the language is spoken. It's hardly worth bothering with for teens and adults, but younger kids may find it an interesting introduction to learning another language.

"Never Say Never" Justin Bieber Music Video (HD, 4m) Do you like teenybopper Justin Bieber? Yes? Then watch this. If you answered "no", avoid like syphilis.

Just For Kicks: Making Of Karate Kid (HD, 20m) A typical EPK-style featurette, broadly covering the movie and its links to the '84 original. Quite good as a one-stop visit, but everything it has to offer is detailed better in the other extras.

Interactive Map Of China: An okay use of Blu-ray capabilities, as the movie's location shoots are explored in production footage by clicking on various points on a map of China: the Great Wall (HD, 2m), Wudang Mountains (HD, 5m), Beijing Film Studio (HD, 3m), Shaolin School (HD, 2m), and Sports Arena (HD, 2m).

Alternate Ending (HD, 4m) Jackie Chan didn't get to demonstrate much physicality in the finished film, but this alternate ending reveals that the original intention was for his Mr Han to fight the evil Master Li, mere seconds after Dre's final fight. It's quite nice to see Chan do his stuff, but this isn't a particularly amazing fight, and was deservedly cut. It would have stolen the thunder from Dre, and ended the film on a strange, violent note.

Production Diaries (HD, 30m) Here you'll find 9 diaries, accessible separately if you desire. It's actually a diverting half-hour, with lots of good behind-the-scenes footage that's paced well and shouldn't bore you.

Extras: MovieIQ, as is standard for Sony discs.

Don't forget: you can win a copy of The Karate Kid on Blu-ray by entering my competition. Closing date: 20 November 2010.