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The Karate Kid (2010) - One Guy's Opinion 
11th-Jun-2010 10:17 pm
babo says RAR
Racebending.com was lucky enough to get a screening of The Karate Kid earlier this week.

We've been getting a lot of questions about the movie, especially given its controversial titling and its setting in China. I can't speak for everyone on staff, but here's my impression of the film.


On the title:

Really unfortunate, and obviously a result of meddling on the part of some marketing head. The film really should go by its international title, The Kung Fu Kid, but some Hollywood jerk wanted to profit off the original brand.

The film has obvious lineage from The Karate Kid - they used the same screenwriter and the plot follows the arc of the original perfectly, almost note by note.

However, it's no excuse for waving off the distinction between karate (Japanese) and kung fu (Chinese). The film itself emphasizes that kung fu is different (in fact, implying it's superior). But the title should reflect this, just as the film does.

On the portrayal of China:

The Chinese government provided substantial funding to this film and it shows. The film pays great attention to the beauty and grandeur of Chinese culture, architecture, and history - while also dispelling the misconception of China as an ancient, third-world nation. China is shown to be a bustling modern marvel.

The people are shown to be friendly, with Chinese youths playing alongside the elderly in parks decked out with the latest equipment. Aside from the grade school bullies, there's no sign of crime or discord anywhere.

The film - in my opinion - portrays China as better than it actually is. I was particularly struck by how welcoming and open everyone was to foreigners... especially ones of African descent, such as Dre (Jaden Smith) and his mother. Jaden's school also had a large number of foreign students, which I wouldn't expect.

There's also a huge stigma against Chinese girls dating foreigners that is largely ignored, or at least made extremely ambiguous.

That being said, I think this is forgivable. Most American films pretend that racial discord doesn't exist in this country - and many portray America as the world's greatest country, devoid of any political problems and largely devoid of crime.

Your personal concern about this portrayal of China may vary, depending on how connected you feel with Chinese politics, etc.

On the lead characters:

I'm overjoyed that there is an African American child actor headlining a major Hollywood film... and it's not being marketed as a "black film."

Yes, Jaden Smith got the gig because of his parents - Will and Jada Smith are the top two producers. Yes, this smacks of nepotism. Yes, it sucks that the only way a black child actor can headline a film is to be descended from the #1 box office star in America.

On the other hand: Jaden proves that he is an incredibly talented actor, who can carry a film just as well as the white child actors Hollywood is more inclined to hire. (Actually, he's far better than the vast majority of Hollywood child actors.)

I think that's a step forward, if only a small one.

Jackie Chan's character is incredibly well-rounded. In fact, he has one of the most emotionally powerful scenes of his career in this film. For decades now, he's wanted to prove he can act dramatically - that he's not just a funny guy who does his own stunts.

After seeing this film, I back him up all the way. Jackie Chan's got the acting chops.

A small note: I was really happy with how they portrayed the black characters' hair in this film. There are so many negative messages in the media about black hair, constant pressure to straighten it out, make it look and act more "white."

It's hard for me to comment too much on that since I'm not African American... maybe I'm making too big a deal out of it, but I liked how they handled it.

On the portrayal of Chinese people:

The bullies actually have some depth. They're not just faceless, evil, hateful monsters who are out to get the heroic American. They have moments of humanity.

The one who receives the blame is their instructor, who is portrayed as an evil sociopath - the perfect foil to Jackie Chan's character.

What would have made the film perfect is the portrayal of a friendly Chinese male youth. The end result is slightly flawed: a bunch of misguided (but still vicious) bullies attacking an American kid, with a Chinese girl for a love interest.

And there was the usual "one month of really hard training makes the foreigner better than the locals at their own tradition" thing.

Slightly flawed - but not nearly enough to ruin the film for me. It came across as a tad shallow rather than outright malicious or even overly negligent. I wasn't offended, but again, your mileage may vary.

One big plus was the little scene they had at the beginning of the film. It's the same one from the trailer: Jaden tries practicing Mandarin on the airplane with a fellow (Asian) passenger. The passenger leans over and says, "Dude. I'm from Detroit." Really funny scene, felt kind of like a "shout-out" to any Asian Americans in the audience.

On perceived "Racebending":
I'm afraid of what detractors will say, so let me just remark: it's not "reverse racism" to cast a black actor in a remake of a film that originally had a white actor. The statistics show how vanishingly rare it is for actors of color to be given a fair chance. The film is about an American kid who gets singled out and bullied for being different - and "American" doesn't mean "white."

It is not the same as a story about historical or real-life individuals being whitewashed. It is not the same as a fictional hero who is rooted in a people's legacy, history, and culture being "colonized" with a white actor because of the (misguided, untrue) belief that white audiences will only pay to watch films about white people.

Just my two cents on that.

As a film:

Overall, how was it? I was pleasantly surprised - really enjoyed it. It's a fun, stand-up-and-cheer summer flick. It's got just enough depth to make you really care about the characters.

The film dragged a little, especially at the beginning. I think they could have cut about twenty minutes out with improvement to the overall flow (it's over two hours long!).

I know there's a great deal of controversy about the name, not only because of the implication that "kung fu" and "karate" are the same, but also because Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi in the original) is highly venerated. Does the film deserve a spot in that legacy?

I can't speak to that... it's tough. I will say that I'm happy that a black child actor was able to represent "America" in this film.

In the end... I'd pay to see this film - though since we got to catch it free, I don't think I'll be watching it a second time.

What do y'all think? Title change unforgivable? Worth a try? Let's talk about it.
Comments 
12th-Jun-2010 05:38 am (UTC)
I was really iffy about the movie when I first heard about it, thinking it'll just ride on the success of the original without providing a unique take on things. However, with the little I've read about it, along with the trailer and a clip, I was willing to give it a chance.

This post makes me even more thrilled to see it, especially what you've said about Jackie Chan's performance which reflects some other people's observations.

Jaden tries practicing Mandarin on the airplane with a fellow (Asian) passenger. The passenger leans over and says, "Dude. I'm from Detroit." Really funny scene, felt kind of like a "shout-out" to any Asian Americans in the audience.

I lol'd so hard at this when I saw the trailer. Besides the observation that you pointed out, I'm from the Detroit-area. :D

So yeah, I'm definitely going to see it this weekend and will come back here to give my two cents about it.
12th-Jun-2010 05:39 am (UTC)
The only reason the title didn't bother me is because its clearly part of the Karate Kid series, it has the same plot, etc. :) So I can forgive that in this instance. Its marketing, whatevers.

I'm excited to see it, I can't wait. I've been a fan since the first one, and I'm a huge kung fu movie and Jackie Chan fan, too. XD
12th-Jun-2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
The "it's marketing" excuse is why we have the cast for TLA as it is and why Jessie McCartney was originally casted as Zuko. So be careful with that line...
(Deleted comment)
12th-Jun-2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Seconded.
12th-Jun-2010 05:53 am (UTC)

I don't know about alot of folks but to me, The Kung Fu Kid (yeah that title will just have to do) will NOT be of obvious lineage to the Karate Kid unless ...

They put Peter Cetera's Glory of Love at the end! Then I for one will look forward to this movie.
12th-Jun-2010 06:00 am (UTC) - Thanks so much
I know I was excited to see this before, and I can kind of forgive the name change. I'm pissed it got changed, but I'm glad the whole way through everyone didn't think so culturally insensitive (that's how it sounds at least).

But I'm glad the movie is good. I'm hoping to go see it tomorrow morning. Thanks for the review!
12th-Jun-2010 06:11 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for this review, it was exactly what I was looking for. It's really been a while since I've been to the movies, because every new film that comes out reveals itself to be *fail somehow, and nowadays, I refuse to 'switch off my mind' and pay to feel uncomfortable/disappointment.

So, yay for Karate Kung Fu Kid! Definitely looking forward to seeing it in the theatre now!
12th-Jun-2010 06:20 am (UTC)
I was already planning on seeing this movie, and your review confirms it.

I'm still am a bit annoyed at the title. One the one hand I think it's fine that they used it to tie it back to the original, showing that this is indeed a remake. But on the other hand, I know a lot of Americans who think that all Eastern martial arts are karate (including my mom who continually talks about my "karate practice" when I take Tae Kwon Do and have told her as much multiple times). So... yeah.
12th-Jun-2010 06:24 am (UTC)
Yeah, Hollywood marketing effs up again. The film does make the difference extremely clear... to the point where it's borderline "China does it better than everyone." In addition to karate, they also mention jiujitsu and capoeira... and show that kung fu's "obviously" the best. ;)
12th-Jun-2010 06:31 am (UTC)
who is portrayed as a crazy, evil sociopath -

So... the film has at least some positives when it comes to race, but still portrays the villain as mentally ill?

Lovely.

(Sorry if I'm reading this incorrectly; I've just been battered by an unusual amount of ableism this week, and much of it directed at people with mental illnesses/brain disorders.)
12th-Jun-2010 06:34 am (UTC)
Sorry, I was using "crazy" in its colloquial meaning, not as clinical terminology. I didn't mean to offend and I've removed the term from the original post.

I think the "sociopath" label's appropriate here, though of course I'm not a clinician.
12th-Jun-2010 06:59 am (UTC)
I got to see the trailer for this for the first time in front of Percy Jackson & The Olympians - ironically, the first time I also saw a trailer for The Last Airbender (I had not even watched the trailers online, I had no interest in seeing the failure in action) And... I was honestly kinda stoked. I was still on the fence, though. They always show the best parts in trailers, right? So "This could be really good or REALLY REALLY BAD" and I wasn't 100% certain if I wanted to just wait until it came out on video or to actually see it in theaters.

So, thank you for this review. I think I've got a movie to see this weekend.
12th-Jun-2010 07:23 am (UTC)
I loved the movie. My sister and I (and the audience) were cheering. It was brutal at points (the kids actually look like they're getting hit in the face and kicked).

My sister and I talked about all the Asian kids who spoke English, were awesome actors and had the talent to do martial arts/kung fu, and why none of them seem to matter when it comes to casting movies like TLA.

I was a little upset that Dre didn't have a Chinese friend or Chinese American friend to help him out, but I am glad at the ending.

The "villain" of the bullies was amazing. I want to see him in more movies!
12th-Jun-2010 07:25 am (UTC)

A small note: I was really happy with how they portrayed the black characters' hair in this film. There are so many negative messages in the media about black hair, constant pressure to straighten it out, make it look and act more "white."


I was really happy with this, too! I liked that he had corn rows and his mom had curly hair.
12th-Jun-2010 07:32 am (UTC)
I just saw this movie tonight and I really loved it. I loved that so many people lined up to see it. I loved that for once, we had minorities as being central characters and the main focus of the story. It was actually really good, and Jackie Chan's scene in the car with Dre made me cry.
12th-Jun-2010 08:30 am (UTC)
I can't fully express how much this tittle drives me completely insane. If I'm not mistaken, wasn't "The Kung Fu Kid" the working tittle? In fact I seem to remember it's IMDb listing as such. They still have a chance to change the tittle for home video; maybe. Won't most people watching this start to wonder about the tittle wile viewing the movie? Screwy.

"And there was the usual 'one month of really hard training makes the foreigner better than the locals at their own tradition' thing."

^I get what you're saying here but isn't this done to basically show that the other kids were 'doing it wrong'? I haven't seen this movie yet (free tickets, maybe next few weeks) but the original film showed just that. Not that karate was the "villains'" 'own tradition', but they definitely were more skilled and powerful than Daniel; karate was their turf. It's not like the natives in JC's Avatar were 'doing it all wrong'. I just think there might be a difference here.

^I'll be sure to see if I had my foot in mouth over this one.

Anyways, thanks for the review.
12th-Jun-2010 09:16 am (UTC)
"The Kung Fu Kid" is the title it's being released under internationally. Only the Americans get "The Karate Kid," because we're just that - ahem - special. :P
12th-Jun-2010 09:47 am (UTC)
The title pisses me off, but I've heard the people behind the movie fought for it to be called Kung Fu Kid. It was the studio execs who made a dumb decision.

And it looks like this might be the breakout movie of the summer. Early estimates say it'll have a $52 million opening weekend. Maybe higher. That's twice what the studio was expecting! http://www.deadline.com/2010/06/karate-kid-reboot-kicking-a-team-butt/
12th-Jun-2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Will Smith heavily fought for it and he was shot down very hard.

That really, shows the real power situation in Hollywood right now...
12th-Jun-2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
Interesting on the portrayal of China. A few of my friends went to China on an exchange program recently. I didn't hear that they got any negative attention as foreigners. On the contrary, one of the friends who's black got a lot of positive attention. Friendly attention but still pretty weird, like when some storekeeper came up to her going "I love black people! Michael Jordan is the greatest! OBAMA!" She was also stopped on the street for photos a lot, though she had also gotten blue hair extensions the week before leaving so she'd stand out even more.
12th-Jun-2010 05:32 pm (UTC)
I've never been to China, so it's quite possible these are my own stereotypes speaking. From my personal experience with Asian nationals, and some Asian Americans, I think "dark skin = bad" is pretty ingrained in many Asian cultures. Might be different in China now, but I remember reading about the hugely negative reaction toward the half-black/half-Chinese pop singer they had recently.
12th-Jun-2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
I'm really annoyed by the title - like another person mentioned upthread, a lot of Americans seem to think of all Asian martial arts as Karate - I've had to correct my dad multiple times that I do tai chi, NOT karate. Though, I am pleased that even the trailers make sure to state that this is a movie about Kung Fu, not karate.

The film itself emphasizes that kung fu is different (in fact, implying it's superior).

To be perfectly honest, I was kind of expecting this. I tend to hear this kind of thing a lot from the instructors at my kung fu school, and while I've never met our school's founder (who is Chinese), I've seen some videos of him, and he does the same thing. So, yeah, it's probably a bit annoying in the film, especially to people in the audience who do other martial arts, but, eh. I'll let it slide.

I've already made up my mind to see this film based on the trailers, but it's good to hear that it was pretty enjoyable.
12th-Jun-2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
Omgwhat? Tai chi and karate are so different!
12th-Jun-2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the review! I'll keep the problems in mind when I see it.
(Deleted comment)
12th-Jun-2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
I was feeling kinda excited for it, but now am even more excited to see it. I mean, Jackie Chan! And! Jaden Smith! And! Kung fu! And! Kids performing martial arts! Suck it, Airbender casting folks! However, I also have ZERO investment in the Karate Kid franchise, so to me, this is going to be the Kung Fu Kid.
12th-Jun-2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
I saw the movie last night and my feelings on it pretty much mirror this review completely. Including the part where it would have been nice to see a male Chinese youth as Dre's friend instead of all of them being bullies either through peer pressure or from their teacher being a massive dork.
12th-Jun-2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
The title never really bothered me because I saw it this way:
If they changed it to a more appropriate title like "The Kung Fu Kid" people would go up in arms screaming that "It's a rip off of The Karate Kid!!!" so it was easier to just keep the existing title, since it's pretty much the same basic storyline after all. (Kid is bullied, gets Asian mentor to teach him some martial art, kid defeats bullies, kid gets girl.)

I think it's great that there was a minority actor, even if he has A-list blood running through him, because the last movies were white male and white female, so why not move on?

I haven't seen this yet but I am looking forward to it especially since I was able to go to mainland China this past winter and see a small portion of the country. I can't note any disrespect I incurred because as my boyfriend said "You're Asian enough to look like a weird looking Chinese person and not a complete foreigner."
12th-Jun-2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
The problem is that it's a Japanese title on a Chinese martial art, thus feeding the "All Asians are Alike" image that we project on them. Kind of like when you see "Asian THemed" things they have like Katanas and Fortune Cookies all in the same room when they are from completely different cultures.

That is what I loved the most about Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was not just an "Asian Show", it was a variety of cultures from various Asian countries that showed how multi-racial and multi-cultural the real Asia actually is.

My hope is that one day they can do that with Africa...
12th-Jun-2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
I thought the movie looked pretty good from the trailers, but wasn't planning on seeing it (mostly because I rarely see any movies in theaters), but with this review, I might see it July 2nd as a form of protest against TLA. It'd be amazing if Racebending.com supporters could actually give the Kung Fu Kid a sales boost over that weekend.
12th-Jun-2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a really good idea. I think I'll rewatch it on July 2nd as well.
12th-Jun-2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
It's not uncommon to see so many foreigners at a Chinese school, because Jaden would have gone to an international school instead of a local one for sure. And race relations are complicated there - people both love and welcome foreigners and don't, and there is both a stigma and a um, jiao ao - it probably translates to arrogance - surrounding Chinese girls dating foreigners. But I haven't seen the film yet, so I guess I'll have to decide for myself the portrayal of China. =)

Lack of crime and discord in China is definitely the machinations of the Chinese government though.
12th-Jun-2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
The problem is, that much like how the majority of people here are racist, the majority of people in China are hugely xenophobic much like their Japanese and Korean neighbors.

I think that is the problem. It's kind of like if you watch our movies, you would think we were this really nice big melting pot...when we are not.
12th-Jun-2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
The title never bothered me, because I had the impression (not sure exactly where I got it now, maybe one of the previews?) that the inaccuracy referred to the main character himself saying something culturally clueless. Or maybe the bullies made a crack about the foreign kid wanting to learn "karate" (implying that he was clueless enough to make that mistake). It's a bit of a stretch to make a title out of that, but if it's about a kid going from clueless to something better, referencing an early mistake like that wouldn't be a bad choice.

On the other hand, you've actually seen the film now, so...either I accidentally made that up or it was cut, I guess.
12th-Jun-2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
See that's what I thought too, him just calling it all karate and the bullies going 'lol. No'.
So it made sense in my head.

But, I can see why they didn't keep The Kung Fu kid. It's not right, but I get it from a studios standpoint. If it's 'the smart, money-making' reason and not the 'the movie going audience is stupid' reason.
12th-Jun-2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
I guess I have to go see it, though I don't really know how plot wise they can really make the whole Han character without the Anti-Japanese Discrimination Revelation that was one of the key points of the Miyagi character so great.

I wonder what that moment is or if it is as strong?
12th-Jun-2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to hear that Jaden Smith could hold his own in this movie. I was worried that the nepotism thing was the only thing that got him in and that he wouldn't have the acting chops to handle it.
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