Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Video review: "The Karate Kid"


First of all, the style of fighting depicted in the remake of "The Karate Kid" is explicitly stated to be kung fu, not karate. At one point American expatriate Dre (Jaden Smith) even corrects his mother, who has brought them to China for her job, when she dubs it karate.

And the Mr. Miyagi role from the original film has shifted from Japanese to Chinese, with Jackie Chan playing Mr. Han, the local handyman hiding a bowl of whoop-tush behind his sad, enigmatic facade.

In fact, in everywhere but America, this movie was titled, "The Kung Fu Kid."

Directed by Dutch filmmaker Harald Zwart from a script by rookie screenwriter Christopher Murphey, the reboot does a good job of updating the story while keeping the bones of the conflict intact.

Smith, who seems to be channeling the hip-yet-unthreatening mannerisms of superstar dad Will, is a terrifically likeable presence as Dre, target of the local bullies.

After he begins instruction under Mr. Han, the film builds to a big showdown with his tormenter at a kung fu competition that's a virtual copy of the first film -- right down to Master Li, the sadistic opposing teacher, instructing one of his thugs to cripple Dre's knee, requiring him to pull off a fantastic one-legged maneuver.

It's feel-good pap, but well-done and entertaining.

Video extras are pretty good, though the lack of a commentary track leaves something of a hole in the offerings.

The DVD has a 20-minute making-of documentary, which includes the tidbit that Chan was the one who came up with the "jacket on, jacket off" training exercise mirroring the "wax on, wax off" one from the original film.

There's also an interactive feature teaching the basics of speaking Chinese, and a music video by Justin Bieber.

On top of these, the Blu-ray edition includes production video diaries hosted by Chan, and an interactive feature about the geography of where the film was shot.

Juiciest extra: An alternate ending in which Mr. Han fights it out with evil Master Li! Think of it as a spicy little fortune cookie.

Movie: 3 stars out of four
Extras: 3 stars



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