Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith hit the screen in this hard-hitting contemporary take on the old story of the impatient student and the wise old martial arts teacher. The scene is modern day Beijing where Dre Parker and his mother have just moved from Detroit.
The usual atmosphere of culture shock is only augmented by the fact that every kid on the playground seems to know kung fu and enough English to throw a few taunts.
Dre’s saving grace comes in the form of the maintenance man, who not only knows how to work the hot water heater, he is a kung fu master who saves the young American lad from a pack of bullies. This time around, there is no “wax on, wax off.” Rather, Mr. Han’s preferred method of teaching revolves around hanging up a jacket, taking it down, putting it on, taking it off, and dropping it on the ground before retrieving it and starting the process over again. The method is not only practical, it has the comical aspect of reducing clutter in the Parkers’ apartment.
While multiple scenes of the duo training on the Great Wall of China are a little far fetched, the settings are nevertheless breathtaking. All throughout the film, the American viewer is exposed to different aspects of Chinese culture. The existence of video arcades and basketball courts blend with mountaintop temples, bustling markets and dark alley ways in a reminder of how the ancient and modern come together in a vibrant culture, a culture with both admirable qualities as well as a dark side.
Perhaps the most captivating part of the film is the most questionable. The conflict between Dre and his antagonists leads up to a celebrated kung fu competition. Entirely contrary to the teachings of the wise maintenance man, which state that kung fu is not about senseless violence but rather is an entire way of life, the competition pits Dre against an entourage of competitive showmen in a contest of shattering blows.
The American desire for victory and vengeance will be acquitted in the movie, as Dre draws upon invisible reserves of strength and cunning to return to the ring and face down his schoolyard nemesis, sporting a broken leg all the while. And while the conclusion is a good lesson in the human ability to recognize nobility above winning at all costs, one wonders if the steps taken along the way were not perhaps a little too drastic.
“The Karate Kid” is an engaging bit of entertainment that nevertheless glorifies violence in an excessive manner. Leaving the film, children and adults and like will be awed by the martial arts, but for the wrong reasons. Parents should exercise caution when exposing their children to the movie, taking care to explain when violence is justified and when it is not. Nevertheless, for the discerning mind, the acting, dialogue and cinematography are all top notch, making the movie an enjoyable piece of entertainment.