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Geek Padre Takes On THE KARATE KID Redux!! 'The first film I have seen that is truly a reimagining of the original'...

Merrick here...
Geek Padre, a longtime reader of AICN, sent in some thoughts on the Harald Zwart directed, Will Smith produced KARATE KID remake. In short, it's better than he thought it would be - read on to learn why!
Here's Geek Padre...
Last night, I attended a preview of "The Karate Kid" Remake, and I thought AICN readers might interested in hearing about it. First, I went in with pretty low expectations. After this latest round of craptacular "remakes" or "reimaginings," I was pretty much expecting the worst. However, I came away both pleased and surprised at the quality of the film; they not only created a worthy successor to the previous incarnation, but also created a proper film in its own right. As to the plot of the movie, it is point for point the same as the Ralph Macchio original, so no surprises there. However changing the locale for the big move truly enhanced both the "menace" and the "fish out of water" dimension of the story. Locating the film in China meant that Dre (Jaden Smith) literally had no foothold in the world around him. As much as I was supposed to care about Daniel in the original, I had a hard time sympathizing with his plight. Being moved halfway around the world clarified the emotional content of this movie. And the film had a very broad emotional spectrum: it was equal parts funny, charming, scary, and triumphant. I found myself tearing up several times in the film because the predicaments felt very real as opposed to the original which seemed contrived. The acting across the board is excellent. Taraji P. Henson shines when she is on screen, but she was underutilized. The Chinese actors are all excellent. The young actor who plays Dre's nemesis is much more convincing as the thug/bully than in the original as is the head of the rival Kung Fu school. He's not just a douchebag; he is a real menance, with a Yakuza vibe to him. When he threatens to bring pain and suffering, you know he is not kidding. But the two clear stars are Chan and Smith. Say what you will about Jackie Chan's acting ability, but in this project he showed real depth. As Mr. Han, we see the years both as a martial artist and as a actor come together. I suspect part of the strength of this acting job was being able to act in his native language - he just seemed more comfortable. As for the young Mr. Smith, he is clearly channeling his dad's early career which is fine for a tween actor. What the future holds is a valid question but for now, this level of charm and self-confidence makes Smith incredibly watchable. Using China as the backdrop was simply a stroke of genius. The film could be seen as a travelogue for China and its culture. The cinematography is beautiful and evocative. While we can't read the signs, the filmmakers make sure to create a "neighborhood" and a recognizable home base for the story. There is a very clear message about how both the US and China need each other but it is never really rammed down people's throat. Many times we are treated to the food, the entertainment centers, the atmosphere of Beijing and the surrounding country as well. The martial arts are beautifully executed. As a student of Kung Fu San Soo, both the description of the mindset behind Kung Fu and the execution of the art are spot on. Chan is still the master of cinema martial arts, but every actor in the film shows great ability. In the final scene of the movie, there is a moment when Dre's attackers salute Mr. Han, and I got this scene of Chan handing the torch on to this next generation. The credits mention a CG director but I would be hard pressed to tell you where it came in. The weaknesses of this film are few. Some might have some qualms about the ages of the characters. In this film, the age group is stepped down to middle school, right around 12 years old. For me, this reduction in age added a charming innocent but also ramped up the impact of the violence. Just as seeing "Hit Girl" in "Kick Ass", you get that weird disturbing experience of seeing a child who could seriously harm the adult. For me, that made the film all the more plausible and emotionally resonant. Others might have qualms about the cross culture aspect of the film, making the same complaint against it that was made against "Avatar". From early in the film, you get this sense that the only change Dre will have to make is going from not knowing Kung Fu to knowing Kung Fu. In other words, the film comes off as though the US is culturally superior. But, while the character arc for Dre could have been more developed on this front, viewers will be pleased with how Dre begins to see the value of Chinese culture, especially in regards to respecting family. Lastly, my only head scratching moment was why did the film makers feel the need to keep the original title? This film I think would have worked well without reference to the original but because it is so dependent on the original for plotting and structure, perhaps the filmmakers felt the tip of the hat necessary. My only complaint is that the fighting style is not Karate which originates in Japan but rather Kung Fu, a Chinese martial art. Final point: This is the first film I have seen that is truly a reimagining of the original. And it is so worth your time. If you use this, refer to me as "Geek Padre."
We really appreciate GP taking the time to write this up. THE KARATE KID opens June 11.
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