Friday, June 11, 2010

Chairman Mao Loves Me (and so does the Fresh Prince)

The remake of 1984's Karate Kid dutifully follows the original with one exception. This time Daniel-san is shan-Dre and he hasn't relocated to the outskirts of L.A., but rather Beijing. Too bad this crucial change in setting didn't inspire the writers to deviate from the same tired plot.

The lead, overly played by Will Smith's son, meets a local girl and then the schoolyard bully who will terrorize him until Jackie Chan, as Mr.Han, unsteadily comes to his rescue. Right off the bat, this is a little odd as Dre is awfully young to be gettin' with the ladies. Ralph Macchio's Daniel was a hormonal, lanky teenager. Jaden Smith is still short enough to get turned away from half the rides at Magic Mountain.

Wait a minute Jaden, how much do you pay your publicist?

There's more than a few holes in this flick and we get way more closeups of Smith's over-worked tyke rather than Chan's quietly wounded old man.

If they made a silent film starring just Jackie Chan's face, it would be a roaring success. Decades of physical comedy, broken bones and mega-stardom have created a damn interesting fellow who seems to get acting inside and out -- he's just not interested in doing something that easy.

Little Dre's love interest is a comely Chinese girl a foot taller than him who's father is one of the new elite business men of China. Irony of ironies, she's trying to become a classical violinist -- a bourgeois foreign art the Communists gleefully murdered 500,000+ people for during the Cultural Revolution.

In the course of their paint-by-numbers journey (to Dre winning the kung fu tournament) Mr. Han, takes him to a mountain village outside of Beijing; you know, the kind that only exist in movies or at Disney World. Here there's no pollution, no crowds, everyone wears gorgeous silk costumes and apparently no one is forced to work in a Chinese factory. They should have called it the Ancient Wise Asian Town or something. Shoalin priests perch on river rocks in spotless white robes while contemplating existence. A female kung fu practitioner hypnotizes a cobra while perched hundreds of feet above a cliff face. The sun shines and wind chimes rustle. It's the kind of retreat fat Americans spend thousands of dollars to go to on the weekends. Again, what the hell? Was the entire film crew under the age of 30? Does no one remember the Cultural Revolution when hundreds of Confucian and Buddhist temples were destroyed and the Revolutionary Guard took sledge hammers to historical sites all at the whim of Chairman Mao?

Classical violin music and ancient Chinese Confucian meditation are some big speed bumps in The Karate Kid 2010. Yet another hiccup the writers chose to ignore: Jaden Smith is African American. China's not the most progressive country when it comes to racial acceptance. Sure, they're better than North Korea, but that's not saying much. In real life, the rich Chinese business man wouldn't have let the cute moppet Dre within five kilometers of his upper-class daughter, especially considering how damn rare marriageable daughters are in China today.

No one's seen hide nor hair of the Chinese kids who play the bully (Zhenwei Wang), or the female love interest (Wenwen Han) at any press events for the movie. And it's a damn shame as both kids can emote with more believability than Jaden Smith, who's daddy Will Smith bought him this movie.

I think if I have to chose between the mythical Jackie Chan (The Forbidden Kingdom) promoting the cardboard Wise Asian Man versus the stilted reality of The Karate Kid 2010, I'll take the full-on myth. I prefer tinkling wind chimes, meditating Shoalin monks and cascading mountain streams over Beijing's pollution, poor unemployed and China's oppressive oligarchy any day.

Finally, the only thing more offensive than assuming Americans will buy the idea of an African American woman being relocated from Detroit to China to work for a car company (when did they get so benevolent?!), is the assumption none of us knows the difference between karate and kung fu. I guess it's too late to re-name it?

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