AKA The Kung Fu Dream [in Chinese markets]
Starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wang Zhenwei, Yu Rong-Guang, Han Wen Wen, Xu Ming, Wang Ji, Luke Carberry
Directed by Harald Zwart
I hadn’t planned to watch this, but the opportunity presented itself without any effort on my part and I took the bullet so you guys wouldn’t have to if you didn’t want to. The story here follows the same basic beats as the original: Mother and boy move a great distance to a new place where bullies thrive and said boy resorts to learning martial arts from the maintenance man, who has a way of teaching through everyday tasks. Thankfully this version of the film doesn’t try to emulate the same tasks, instead inventing a “Put on the jacket, Take off the jacket” thing that actually works pretty well despite my best intentions to hate it. When Jackie Chan finally decides to unleash the martial power of this seemingly minor act, the resulting scene is pretty enjoyable and is probably the best in the film.
I have to give the movie credit for being close to two-and-a-half hours and keeping my attention throughout. I would have liked to see more of Jackie Chan in action as opposed to Jaden Smith, but that’s a ridiculous expectation to have for a film titled The Karate Kid. But when I noticed that the awesome and amazing Yu Rong-Guang was cast as the evil kung fu master, I was supremely disappointed that he didn’t get any chance to show off his skill. He’s one of my favorite unsung Hong Kong actors, but unfortunately U.S. audiences will continue to be in the dark as the filmmakers did not utilize his full potential. A Jackie Chan / Yu Rong-Guang fight could have been off the charts.
Jackie Chan does a great job and may finally prove to American audiences that he’s an actual actor in addition to all the wonderful fighting and stunts they know him for. Of course, those in the know have known this for years, but it’s nice to see him shine in an American production without resorting to the traditional smiling Jackie stereotype. He has one big fight and it’s easily my favorite of the film and pretty well choreographed. A lot of it is lost in the shitty editing, but there is enough left to be enjoyable. When Jackie swiftly removes the jacket from one attacker and proceeds to tie up an entire group of ruffians with it while it’s still on the arm of the first guy, I have to smile. Sure, there’s been tons of better stuff but it’s pretty good for what it is.
I have to wonder how Chinese audiences reacted to this film, as its depiction of China literally runs down the list of American stereotypes of Chinese culture. I’ve seen a lot of Chinese movies and I can’t recall any that prominently featured incredibly talented violinists and pianists that didn’t stop practicing to eat. There’s also an attempt to add some Chinese mysticism to the film as Jackie and Jaden run up a mountain to a monastery to drink water from the Dragon Well. It’s handled so poorly and without imagination though that it only serves to remind me that I have a stack of super-fun Shaw Brothers films waiting to be watched. I guess I can hope that this film has something of a Kill Bill effect and intrigues new viewers into checking out some truly imaginative Hong Kong films.
In the end, it’s not a bad movie but it’s only one to watch if you’ve got young kids with an interest in the martial arts (are there any other kind?). I must admit that I was entertained and the lengthy runtime flew by fairly quickly without me checking the clock too much. Big fans of the original will be better off just giving that one a re-watch, but if you’re feeling bold, this one’s not too bad if you don’t go in expecting anything.
Oh and don’t forget to stay for the credit roll and the Justin Bieber song featuring Jaden Smith on rap vocals. Just in case all the dancing, fighting, acting and running hadn’t sold you on Hollywood’s newest product sensation.