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The Karate Kid
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The Karate Kid – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

When young Dre Parker’s (Jaden Smith) father dies, his mother Sherry (Taraji P Henson) takes a job in China. Neither of them speaks Chinese, which makes it all the more difficult for the pair of them to fit in.
It’s only by befriending an attractive, English-speaking classmate, Meiying (Wenwen Han), that Dre starts to get accepted. But her warmth towards him appears to flare up jealousy within the school bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), whose animosity towards Dre shows no bounds.
There are problems back home too – with the plumbing – so Sherry sends Dre to get the building handyman, Mr Han (Jackie Chan) to take a look. As it turns out, Mr Han is somewhat of an expert in Kung Fu and agrees to teach Dre, to help him stand up for himself against Cheng and his gang.
To ensure that the bullies are put in their place, Mr Han decides to teach them a public lesson and strikes a deal with their Kung Fu teacher – Dre will meet them at a national championship and if he beats them, they will agree to leave him alone.
Can Kung Fu rookie Dre pick up enough in just a few short weeks to take on the finest fighters China has to offer? Against all the odds, it really isn’t giving too much away to say that at the very least, he doesn’t embarrass himself.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Hang on – did I keep saying Kung Fu? Isn’t this meant to be the Karate Kid? You got it – in order to remake this 1980s classic, the producers – including Jaden Smith’s parents dad Will and Jada – had to keep the title. So why didn’t they keep the sport too? Couldn’t they have sent our American expats to Japan instead?
Apart from this rather peculiar creative decision, however predictable and formulaic this is, this film pulls off exactly what it’s aiming for. The rousing Hollywood wave of emotion is there in heaps, with our struggling, weedy hero growing in stature and skill to confront his demons and his foes, thanks to the helping, hammering hands of Jackie Chan.
It’s clearly preposterous to imagine that in real life, a beginner could reach the levels he attains in such a short space of time by doing little more than taking his jacket off and putting it on again – the 2010 equivalent of putting the wax on and taking it off again. Nevertheless, it’s compelling and believable in the terms of the story, and like all the best sports movies, it’ll have you itching to jump out of your seat, cheering, by the end.
But the puppy love between Dre and Meiying feels more creepy than cute as the kids seem too young to be getting up to the mischief that they do – and Meiying’s raison d’etre – her music is as laboured as it is obvious. It’s one of the strands – along with pointless training sessions in exotic locations – that serve to drag the running time out to an inexcusable 2 hours and 20 minutes.
As a piece of cliché-ridden film-making for grown-ups, forget it. But for put-upon teenagers, unlucky in life and love, this escapism will give them hope that if you find the right highly-skilled handyman to mentor your through your problems, worthiness will always triumph.

Opens nationwide 28th July 2010

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