The Karate Kid – DVD Review

It’s hard to argue with the numbers, and the numbers at the box office suggest that regardless of what hardcore fans of original films think, remakes of classic stories are a safe bet for making money. One of the most recent remakes to successfully hit the box office was The Karate Kid, starring Jaden Smith.

The film roughly follows the same type of story the original set out to tell, though adds its own elements to the mix, and throws in a modern setting that will help introduce this tale to a new generation. It’s the perfect time for a story like this to be brought to light once again, as bullying has been in the headlines quite a bit lately, and this is a film about overcoming such obstacles, learning to believe in yourself, as well as seeing the bigger picture in everything around you.

Smith, who has had a few major supporting roles already in his young life, takes the lead this time around, playing 12-year-old Dre Parker, who has just moved from Detroit to China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson) after she was transferred there for work. Parker reacts as any 12-year-old would in such a situation, and is rather depressed about it all. He does try to make the best of it and attempts to fit in with a few people around his apartment complex by joining them in a game of basketball. During the game he takes notice of a young Chinese girl named Meiying (Wenwen Han) who is also taking notice of him. Parker goes over to introduce himself but is quickly overtaken by a group of boys, led by Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), who don’t take kindly to his presence.

The bullying continues, with Parker doing his best to stand up for himself, but obviously the underdog not just due to numbers, but also to the fact that these boys are all trained in a violent take on Kung Fu, by the evil Master Li (Rongguang Yu). Soon, Parker breaks down in front of his mother, stating how much he hates it in China, and how he wants to go home, and the entire conversation is overheard by their apartment’s maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan).

After breaking up a violent encounter between Parker and the rest of the boys, Mr. Han takes it upon himself to train Parker for an upcoming Kung Fu tournament, where he’ll be able to face the bullies on an even playing field, one on one.

One of the most important aspects of the first film is how Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel (the Dre Parker of the original film) how there is more to martial arts than just fighting, and how Daniel learned various moves through the famous “Wax on, Wax off,” scenario. Those moments are all brought into the modern light in this film, with a new take on learning through everyday objects. This time around, it’s Mr. Han who begins his lessons to Parker with days of having the boy repeatedly take off his coat, put it on a post, take it back off, put it back on, take it back off, drop it on the ground, pick it back up, hang it back up, rinse and repeat. While Parker soon gets frustrated with this, he soon learns that he’s subconsciously learned how to defend himself just by doing this one thing over and over.

The training is well done, and it mixes well with the story between Parker, his mother, Meiying and Mr. Han, always leading to real life lessons, and helping Parker become a better, more confident person, as well as someone who can defend himself should the need arise. The choreography is extremely well put together, in both the training, as well as the tournament that takes place in the third act of the film.

Director Harald Zwart (The Pink Panther 2) does a great job of bringing this film to life, and isn’t afraid to flesh things out, giving the film a run time of 140 minutes, though none of that time feels wasted. The film is shot in Beijing, and Zwart, along with cinematographer Roger Pratt (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Troy), do a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the lands, as well as some great footage of Mr. Han and Parker training in various locations which look quite beautiful. One training scene, where Mr. Han and Parker are practicing together at night in front of car headlights, with their shadows almost dancing against the wall is one very well done, quite memorable scene.

That scene is memorable for more than just the way it was shot, as it’s also one of the best acted scenes in The Karate Kid, for which a lot of credit has to be given to both Smith and Chan. Smith does a great job taking the film into his hands, and making it a believable story that many will no doubt relate with (as far as bullying, changes, and growing up are concerned; not necessarily the moving to China part.) A lot of people say he’ll easily step into his father’s shoes down the road, and while those are some mighty big shoes to fill, his work here shows he’s at least on the right track.

As far as Chan goes, could there be a more perfect person to take over the iconic role of Mr. Miyagi than Jackie Chan? Chan, who’s always been open that his English isn’t great, has that work to his advantage here, as with the film taking place in China, his grasp of the English language is expected to be imperfect. With that said, he does a superb job in his work as Mr. Han, and the scene spoken about above is small, yet some of his best English work to date. The chemistry he has with Smith also helps the film immensely, as their relationship is believable from the start, and witnessing the bond that grows between them is heart-warming.

The Karate Kid is a great film, and one that people of all ages can appreciate and enjoy. There’s the small question of why they didn’t call it The Kung Fu Kid in North America, as at one point in the film, Parker even says, “It’s not karate!” to his mother, after she brings up a karate class other kids are taking. It was released as such in various places Internationally, yet maybe here they were afraid it would sound to silly, or people would view it as a rip-off of the original, instead of its equal. Though what an ironic reason that would be, as if there’s one thing The Karate Kid tries to teach the viewer, it’s to not be afraid, and to believe in yourself. Then again, maybe it all just goes back to the numbers, and you can’t argue with them.

The film looks and sounds great, as there are no complaints in either department. The Dolby Digital audio comes through crystal clear, and there’s never an issue of music coming on and overpowering a scene that was quiet before it. Everything is completely balanced, and sounds great. The picture, set in 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen looks fantastic, as the visuals are really well done, and the colours and lighting are all done extremely well.

Chinese Lessons – Here you’ll find a package of six different Chinese lessons, that are introduced by their use in the film, and range from basic greetings, to numbers, to general vocabulary. It’s an interesting addition to the film, and while it’s obviously not a way you’d go about learning Chinese if that‘s an interest, it’s a great starting point to see if you, or your kids, may be interested in doing so.

The Making of The Karate Kid – This is a 20 minute featurette, that’s actually nicely put together, and quite informative. It’s here that we learn that it was Jackie Chan who came up with the idea to do the “Jacket on, Jacket off,” as the studio and writer were looking for a way to duplicate the original’s “Wax on, Wax off,” but couldn’t come up with anything. We’re also shown clips from the original film here, and how they played off of it in the new version as well. There are also some fun parts, where we hear Jaden and Wenwen’s perspectives of the whole kiss scene, as well as just how much training went into the film. With no commentary track to be found on the film, this was a well done feature for those who may be interested in learning a bit more about the movie.

There’s also a Justin Bieber music video featuring Jaden Smith.

The Karate Kid remains a story that will survive the ages, and has now been modernized for a new generation to learn from and enjoy. Smith and Chan work so well together, and the film flows so well, that this will no doubt be a film your family will be revisiting time and time again.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Karate Kid (2010). Directed by: Harald Zwart. Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan. Written by: Christopher Murphy. Running time: 140 minutes. Rating: PG. Released on DVD: October 5, 2010.

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