THE KARATE KID KICKS OFF THE SUMMER
Remember when Will Smith could be counted on to open the summer with a blockbuster? From Independence Day to Men in Black, Will Smith always delivered. Move over daddy, it’s the turn of another Smith for this summer. The Karate Kid defeated all opponents in its first weekend in the theaters, entertaining an audience that included the parents who remembered the original and their children. In a summer in which the film industry has attempted to shovel mediocrity at the American public, there is finally a hit, featuring the appealing team of the always great, Jackie Chan, as the “master,” Mr. Han, and the very talented little Jaden Smith, as the “Kid.” Although I had never seen the original, because I preferred the serious purity of Bruce Lee, I took my nephew, Nick, to this new version of The Karate Kid. This is a nice movie, thoroughly enjoyable for parents and children alike. As my brother, who accompanied us, pointed out, The Karate Kid is essentially an adult revenge fantasy. Who does not vividly recall all those schoolyard bullies who tormented us as soon as the teachers turned their backs? Who does not still have to deal with adult bullies in the work place? Revenge is sweet and victory is good and that is the message that The Karate Kid gives all of us, regardless of age.
However, I would like to suggest that parents be prepared. The film takes place in China, which is great for scenic side trips but much of the dialogue is in Chinese, also great for a global perspective. However, for the small child, the subtitles move on and off the screen too quickly for the little ones to read. Also, the Chinese people in the film conveniently speak English with an accent. For those of us who live on the Pacific Rim, an Asian accent is very familiar and we have no trouble with it. For people in other parts of the country, particularly children, the accents may be difficult to follow. While I applaud the decision of the Smiths to shift the site of the film to China, fully half the film’s plot is told through subtitles and accents. Parents need to be alert and prepared to quietly help the young children keep up with the plot, which includes a lot more dialogue that action.
Like many other reviewers, I, too, had trouble with the slight frame of Jaden Smith. While he may grow up to be as tall has his famous father, he now is petit, like his mother, Jada Pinkett. Although the film stated that “Dre Parker” was twelve, Jaden Smith is actually eleven, a child still. The boys who played the bullies are at least three to four years older than the “twelve year old” and are much bigger and stronger adolescents, outweighing him by at least twenty pounds. Even his love interest, “Meiying” (Wenwen Han), is much larger than he, as girls often are at this age. I know nothing about how Karate tournaments are conducted in Beijing, but I would assume that there are categories, such as age, weight, belt color, and so on. It is difficult to imagine that a very small twelve year old would be allowed to fight much older and much heavier boys in any kind of official contest. It would have made more sense for the final encounter between “Parker” and “Cheng”(Zhenwei Wang) to take place where the fight began, in the schoolyard.
Unlike other reviewers, I have other issues: There were many “plot holes” in the script. Why did we have to take field trips to the Great Wall and to the Forbidden City, instead of taking the time to show “Dre” struggling in a Chinese school? He began the film by refusing to speak Chinese and everyone around him is forced to speak English until he finally reads a letter in Chinese to Meiying’s parents. It would have reinforced the open minded and global approach of the film to show the main character learning Chinese language and customs. Women are also given short shift in this movie. Did the film ever tell us whether or not “Meiying” got into the music academy? We saw the audition, where “Dre” mistakenly disgraced her family by clapping for her performance; we saw the long interval when her parents would not allow her to speak to “Dre;” we saw “Dre” apologize to the family. But, unless I missed it, the movie totally dropped the story line about the accomplishments of the little girl in favor of following the victory of the little boy. Which brings me to another point: outsourcing American jobs is seen in a totally positive light, but we never see “Dre’s mother at her work in the “automobile factory.” Surely she must have performed a very vital function in the industry which had to be imported from Detroit, but we have no idea what she did for her job. The last plot hole is the mystery of “Mr. Han.” Did the back story of Jackie Chan also wind up on the cutting room floor? We are told only that he killed his wife and child in a car crash and every year he builds and destroys a car in their memory. But where does martial arts fit into his life? Why is he a “handyman?” Inquiring minds want to know.
Suspend your reality, leap over the plot holes, and stick around for the improbable victory, featuring the famous crane kick. The Karate Kid is a great summer revenge film.
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger