By Antonio Graceffo
I just saw “The Karate Kid 2010” tonight in Bangkok, and I feel like I am 43 going on 16. I have one of those feel-great movie highs that prompts you to make life altering decisions, which you will never follow through on when you wake up with a hangover. But for those brief moments of illusion, you feel like a million bucks.
In short, the new version of “The Karate Kid’ was the greatest movie ever. It was certainly better than “Cats”, but I wouldn’t want to match it up with “Casablanca”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Dodge Ball.”
Even if my over-blown praise seems exaggerated, I can’t believe there are people out there who didn’t love this movie. Maybe if you prefer movies that suck, you wouldn’t like “The Karate Kid”. Or, if you like movies made with crap instead of excellent writing, great acting, and incredible characterization. I hate to compare it to the original, which is a classic, iconic film, but it was even better.
The original was great. I saw it when I was basically the same age as Daniel San and I related to it in so many ways. As an adult, I have re-watched the Pat Morita version a number of times, including twice in the last year, and it is truly a great and timeless film. And of course, I am required to like Ralph Macchio on ethnic grounds. BUT, it did have holes. For one thing, the original needed to be trimmed by 30 minutes. There were too many sequences of playing beach volleyball, riding bicycles and listening to the Bangles musical montage. Otherwise, it was great.
Everyone who was a kid in the 1980s will say that “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” were the two most unforgettable film franchises of their youth. Kids who grew up in the 2000’s will say that the “Star Wars” prequels and the fourth installment of “Indiana Jones” were some of the most forgettable moments of their youth, except those kids who were so traumatized by the terrible films that they are in counseling, reliving those tear-filled moments, again and again….
But I believe kids who are kids now, will remember “The Karate kid 2010” as fondly as we remember the original. And if they don’t, I will punch them in the nose, the snotty ungrateful bastards…not liking my favorite film. Video games and childhood obesity ruined an entire generation.
A lot of people ask me, “So, Antonio, why is Karate Kid so great?”
Funny you should ask that. I was just about to explain what I liked about the movie.
First off, the casting was brilliant. Obviously Jackie Chan is the greatest living martial artist on the planet. He has more film credits and more stunts than almost any living actor. Since I live in Asia, I am probably more aware than most Americans of his tireless activities and charity works off camera. He did no-smoking campaigns in Hong Kong, save the tigers in Cambodia, and promoted world peace, fitness and martial arts everywhere else. Plus, he makes me laugh. The man has made a career out of being the funny, but unbelievably talented Kung Fu movie star. And he just keeps going. He is 56 years old but no one can hold a candle to his martial arts ability.
Pat Morita was Mr. Miyagi. In fact, he said in an interview, that he personally created the Sensei as a character in movies. And I strongly agree. He should be remembered and honored. But the new movie is not an exact remake of the old. And the performance of the new actors shouldn’t be degraded by our emotional ties to the originals. The two films both exist and are both good, full stop. And Mr. Miyagi and Mr. Han both exist. And each is great in his own right.
Probably Mr. Han, Chan’s character, won’t be as quoted as often as Miyagi, but that’s because his lines were in Chinese. And the pronunciation is difficult for many westerners.
When I first heard Jaden Smith was playing Dre Parker (Daniel San) my first thought was that he was from an incredibly talented family, son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. I also remembered him from the movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness”, which was great. I didn’t see him in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” because it starred Tom Cruise and I was afraid people would see me buying a ticket.
The only concern I had about Jaden was that he was too young, twelve-years old. While both “Karate Kid” films dealt with being the new kid in school and being the geek that no one liked, two demons which I wrestle with to this very day, the original was about a boy in high school, a boy trying to become a man. Also, the guys who were beating up Daniel San were basically full grown men. When Miyagi defeated them, he was a hero. The kids beating up Jaden Smith were 14. When Mr. Han defeated them, he should have been arrested.
Although I may have gone into the theater with some slight reservations about a film with such a young kid as the focus, those reservations disappeared minutes into Jaden’s performance. The kid is hip, cool, sassy, good looking, and very likeable. The fact that he is the new kid in school, in China, as opposed to California, means he is facing a bigger challenge than Daniel San and it more than makes up for his lack of years.
Just like in the first movie, Daniel San, Dre gets a crush on a girl who is out of his league. Wen Wen Han the young Chinese actress who plays Mei Ying was excellent. And as a character, she was infinitely more interesting than Ally in the original. In the film, Mei Ying is a musician trying out for the Beijing Academy of Music, facing her own daemons. Dre teaches her the pinky-swear, and they both promise to support each other’s dreams.
As for sheer action, the kung fu was, of course, incredible, because Jackie Chan, unlike Pat Morita, is actually a martial artist. The modern version of “wax-on, wax-off” was also a pleasant surprise. An article I read about the original said it was one of the only karate movies that was about karate. I definitely felt that way about the new version as well. It was about martial art and about taking martial art to your everyday life.
Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) tells Dre (Jaden Smith) “Kung fu is in everything we do. How we put on a jacket, how we take off a jacket, how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.”
On the whole, the greatest strength of the movie is that it is not a remake. This film is not just a modern reboot of the original. It is almost a parallel story, which loosely follows the original formula. There were a lot of really fun references to the original movie. Particularly funny for me, as a Chinese speaker, was the fact that some of the dialogue was exactly the same, except in Chinese.
Notable lines translated into Chinese were, “There is no fear in this dojo” And, “One on one problem, the boy can handle, but not six on one problem.” The one line they did not translate, unfortunately, was “Sweep the leg Johnny.”
As an American living in Asia (I said that already) I completely related to many of Dre’s problems adjusting to his new country. I remember not being able to read street signs, getting lost everywhere I went, Stumbling through my first words of Mandarin, and trying to watch cartoons, only to find that they were dubbed into Chinese. In those early silly days in China (ROC) I remember constantly insulting or interrupting people, simply because I didn’t understand the culture and every time I had a problem I had to go to great lengths to find the one person who spoke English well enough to understand me.
I give huge kudos to the US movie-makers and the American viewing audience for getting out of the American bubble and supporting a movie about an American living abroad.
The Kung Fu training center was exactly like my experience in Shaolin Temple, with hundreds or even thousands of students, in colored track suits, doing forms and practicing for hours. And of course, all of them better than me.
Go see “Karate Kid”. Don’t waste time comparing it to the original. Just enjoy it, and let the memories and emotions wave over you. You may even shed a tear or two.
Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “The Monk from Brooklyn” and “Warrior Odyssey. He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
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