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IN SHORT: It's long but . . . When it rocks it rocks. When it doesn't? It's long . . . [Rated PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language. 140 minutes]
We've been a fan of Jackie Chan since meeting him at a 1990s press junket, promoting his first cinematic attack on the US of A. Our notes, at the time, read something like this: "Chan's moves are amazing. Once he learns English, there may be something here." Be honest -- no one understoond Ah-Nold (Schwarzenegger) when he first donned the loin cloth for Conan. He had to clean up his accent just a little bit. We never hear that kind of effort from Jackie Chan but, luckily, as mentor Mr. Han in the The Karate Kid, he has a student that repeats just about everything he says,
That student, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith, who has inherited spectacular chops from parent Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith) has been up and moved from Detroit to Beijing, by a single mother (Taraji P. Henson) whose role is so undefined that we can't tell you what paid for the move. We assume its a job but the role is so poorly written that we can't tell you what she does. Whatever it is, mom pretty much vanishes to allow her son free reign.
The story centers on the usual new school blues, where we realize that Dre has been lax, both in Chinese language prep and in his use of chopsticks. The language is less a problem as the school is bilingual and, as for the chopsticks, a quiet, and decidedly love-interest friendly kid violinist called Meiying (Wenwen Han) is as happy to help out as the bully called Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) is to send Dre's noodles flying. As the first week continues, Cheng and his croneys, make sport of Dre -- "sport" meaning they take any opportunity they can to beat the stuffing out of the kidlet. Sure, Dre makes other friends but, in general, he hates China. While Dre bonds with Meiying, her parents are none too pleased with the potential distraction from [their] goal of getting her into the prestigious Beijing Academy of Music.
More important to the franchise, Dre eventually fights back, which leads to a huge chase and the kidlet is beaten to a pulp by five or six school bullies. Dre is saved by the timely intervention of "maintenance man" (aka a building superintendent or janitor) called Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Chan's long piece of action at that point -- and it was a fine long piece of action <g> -- inspires the kidlet. But Han is a loner. He has no wife or children and more than happy to stay out of everyone's way... until he takes Dre to make peace with the bully at the kung fu studio run by Master Li (Rongguang Yu). Said peacemaking does not go well and, in exchange for a temporary truce, a battle at a forthcoming karate tournament is arranged.
There is something that has gone down between Han and Master Li. We never find out what it is. It is a moment as lost and underdeveloped as most of the subplots in the film's script. Such as the introduction of an early friend, Harry (Luke Carberry), who vanishes halfway through the story. Such as what the difference is between karate and kung fu is -- and the film does say there is a difference -- we can't tell you.
But it really doesn't matter. From here on out, the beats of the film are reassuringly familiar. Han trains Dre. We smile knowingly as "Jacket on! Jacket off!" takes the place of an old favorite command. We take a long train ride to watch Dre imimbe mystical kung fu water at the top of a mountain. [Given the length of the film and its slow pace, another piece of action could have replaced scenery. Instead we get a blooming love story which eventually implodes] There is an inevitable father-son type bonding and a big transformation in the youngster's attitude.
And there is the Tournament. Our Hero versus you can guess who. The battle is a crowd pleaser. There was good applause in the theater when it was done. 'nuff said.
But it all comes down to the Tournament. And the Tournament kicks . . . uh, a fleshy body part. This is a family friendly site, folks. You know what we're talking about.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Karate Kid, he would have paid . . .
When push comes to shove, that final battle is what all The Karate Kid films come down to.Ten minutes less travelogue would have been nice and onemore pass at the script could have finished the development of more of the supporting cast. [Actually, the most interesting of all the lesser billed actors never says a word and in not doing so, is much more interesting than the Harry character]
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