The Karate Kid Movie Review
Cast & Crew
Director : Harald Zwart
Screenwriter : Christopher Murphey
Dre (Smith) is annoyed when his mother (Henson) moves from Detroit to Beijing, where he's mercilessly bullied by a gang of schoolboy thugs led by Cheng (Wang Zhenwei). Sure, there's the cute violinist (Han) to distract him, but things don't really start looking up until the maintenance man (Chan) agrees to teach him kung fu. Now Dre has three goals: learn skills to defend himself, compete in an upcoming tournament against Cheng and his evil mentor (Yu), and of course get the girl.
The plot is resilient enough to survive pretty much any transposition, and this film's setting adds spectacular kung fu-training backdrops that make it look like a gorgeously produced propaganda film by the China Tourism Board. Although it's unclear why they didn't change the title, as "karate" is only mentioned once, dismissively. The 1984 film, on the other hand, is continually referenced visually, with only a few details changed.
And it's a good thing that the story is so robust, because Smith is likeable although not very deep as an actor. He throws himself into the role physically, and is good in scenes where he's a bratty 12-year-old, but his dramatic range is slightly limited. More resonant scenes are carried effectively by Henson and even Chan, who subdues his usual clownishness in lieu of something more haunted and dark. This nicely adds to the film's central theme that these two people--shattered master and cocky novice--change each other dramatically.
That said, the plot couldn't really be any more predictable than it is, even if you've never seen the original. But Zwart keeps energy levels high and fills the screen with witty elements that keep us from getting bored even as things stretch out far too long. There are about three too many montage sequences, but the fight choreography is extremely clever, leading to some breathtaking moments. And the pre-teen rom-com subplot will have the kiddies (and a few grown-ups) sighing.
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