Saturday 24 March 2018

Movies: The Karate Kid * *

(12A, general release)

Susan Daly

Martial arts purists are going to have a problem with The Karate Kid. Sure, it goes by the title of the 1984 film in which new-kid-in-town Ralph Macchio learns his moves from Pat Norita's Japanese karate master Mr Myagi. But in this reboot, everybody is kung fu fighting.

I'm not so bothered by this. The new movie was filmed in China, received Chinese funding and stars Chinese kung fu artist Jackie Chan in the Myagi-esque role of Mr Han. It's understandable that the film-makers took some liberties with the context. They attempt to remain true where it counts, to the classic theme of the underdog taking on the bullies.

Our young hero this time is Dre Parker, played by Jaden Smith. His dad is dead and his shrill-voiced mom has to make a drastic move from the US to China in order to keep her job. Dre doesn't like his new home. In his home town of Detroit, he was cock of the walk. In Beijing, he attracts the unwanted attentions of a violent group of school bullies within hours of landing.

After initial reluctance, Mr Han, the odd-job man with tragedy and kung fu in his past, coaches Dre to a climactic stand-off with the bullies.

Jackie Chan is the best thing here. Who knew that the star of Rush Hour could do understated? His Mr Han is wounded and watchful but ultimately a man worth getting to know.

The major problem is the actor who plays Dre -- or rather his age. Jaden Smith's famous actor parents Will and Jada partly bankrolled this remake as a vehicle for their son and he was 11 at the time of filming. As a result the bone-crunching violence in several parts of the movie is completely incongruous with the age of those on the giving and receiving end of it.

There are slo-mo Rocky-style sequences in which fists make contact with soft, little baby faces.

Who wants to see pre-teens being beaten up? When Mr Han intervenes with the playground bullies, it's not edifying to watch Chan literally taking a bunch of kids down to Chinatown. Jaden Smith is an accomplished actor but he performs with a confident swagger that just doesn't fit with the vulnerability of a kid who is being brutalised.

And at 140 minutes, the movie is just too long for the age group at which it's aimed.

Irish Independent

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