Monday, 9 August 2010

The Karate Kid - a review...

I went to see the new Karate Kid film a few days ago. I was looking forward to this, partly because it was a karate club outing and thus very social; and partly because I'm a big Jackie Chan fan. I generally like his films because of the combination of comedy and action. The fight scenes are generally well choreographed and exciting but without taking itself too seriously. That's generally what I like about Jackie Chan films.

The Karate Kid is different. The Karate Kid is a disappointment. The Karate Kid made for uncomfortable viewing at times - especially for a parent.

Okay, young Jaden Smith has shown himself to be a very promising actor; the cinematography was impressive, the fight scenes were well choreographed, it had some humour in it, but....

The script writing was lazy and cliched. Small, vulnerable boy from single parent family moves to a strange land and is bullied at school. He is saved from a severe (kung fu) beating from his bullies and their big mates by a maintenance man who also happens to be a kung fu expert. He feels sorry for the kid and agrees to train him in kung fu so that he can avenge his bullies in a kung fu tournament. He trains the kid in about 4 weeks (wow! is kung fu that easy?) by spending most of that time making the kid pick his jacket up and throw it down again (teaches discipline and respect!). He then takes the kid up a mountain to witness acts of Eastern mysticism. The kid is now a kung fu prodigy, attends the bad tempered tournament for his grudge match and guess what? He gets his butt kicked in but bravely makes it back into the arena (with possible broken leg) and wins! Oh, forgot the little side story love interest between the boy and a (proverbial)Chinese girl music prodigy, with pushy, high achieving parents.

Pleeaasseee! I know it's a re-make and all that but there is not an original thought in this film (or any karate).

However, my real dislike of this film is not to do with the poor script and all the cliches - it's to do with the violence. It made very uncomfortable viewing to watch children venting such hatred towards each other and participating in full contact violent kung fu fighting. The little kid (Dre) would have been dead within about 2 minutes if this was real but no, his broken ribs and bruising were healed miraculously and instantly by the maintenance man using 'fire cups' and his black eye was completely healed after about 2 days. The kung fu bullies didn't seem to get a scratch on them despite the maintenance man's best efforts to virtually kill them!

The last straw for me though was the tournament at the end. Think bear baiting, think baying crowds, think gladiatorial fights to the death - this was the tone of a martial arts tournament for kids! It made me think of cage fighting - but at least that is between consenting adults and obeys fairly strict rules. Young Dre had not consented to this fight - he was entered into it by the maintenance man who seemed to have a grudge against the kung fu bullies evil instructor. The crowd (of mainly adults) were cheering every time a kid severely hit another kid or did a spinning kick into their head. It was brutal, it was gratuitous, it was shameful behaviour by both contestants and the audience at a martial arts tournament for kids. Dre's mum was the worst. She jumped up and down cheering every time her son landed some pretty serious 'death strikes' on his opponent and was disappointed when Dre got thrown right out of the fighting area landing heavily on his back (she didn't seem concerned that he might be dead!).

In my opinion, this film glorified violence between children. Children who were basically porns in a feud between adults. They tried to redeem this slightly by the team of kung fu bullies bowing to Dre at the end to show 'respect' but unfortunately this was the type of 'respect' culture one sees in street gangs!

I did not like this film (as you can probably tell). In the UK it has a PG certificate (Parental Guidance) which means any kid can go and see it if their parents let them. Several younger children in the cinema watched the fight scenes through their fingers and were clearly unhappy when they came out. This film should have had a minimum 12 certificate.

I am hard pressed to find any positive values that children would take home after watching this film. Have you watched it? What did you think?

29th August 2010: since writing this post I have visited Sensei Matt Klein's blog where he has several posts about the Karate Kid film, painting it in a much more positive light than me. So for a sense of balance please visit his blog at: http://karate-kids.com.au/10-lessons-learned-from-the-karate-kid-movie/

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27 comments:

Frank said...

Wow..... My shock and disappointment that they were re-making the Karate Kid, was non misplaced, I see. I haven't seen it, and I probably won't see it. It sounds utterly ridiculous. Thanks for the review, Sue.

sandman said...

I haven't seen the movie. When I saw that they were re-making Karate Kid but with Kung Fu I was pretty turned off. Not because I have something against Kung Fu - its just that it was supposed to be karate!

At any rate, I've heard others voice similar complaints about the violence. I thought the fighting in the first Karate Kid seemed fairly tame - it was appropriate. This new one just sounds over the top. My kids will just have to stick with Kung Fu Panda instead (that one is pretty funny :-) )

SueC said...

Hi Frank, you won't miss anything!

Hi Sandman, I loved Kung Fu Panda - a much more indepth and well crafted story than this film!

T. said...

I don't think the movie is supposed to be judged on real life terms. A movie is a movie. The Karate Kid doesn't advertise itself as the way for you to learn Karate, or kung fu, or whatever. What is more dangerous, I think, is those people out there who claim to teach things like "self-defense" or the "death touch" and give people a false sense of self-confidence. It's those situations where moral hazard behavior really starts to take hold and have real consequences. I think there's an assumption with violent movies and kids engaging in violence that the audience is not necessarily informed or cognizant of its fictional elements.

However, I will say that other parts of these movie hold true, but only if we think beyond the script. Instead of criticizing the movie, I think it's useful that it has started a conversation about violence against children. Violence amongst children does happen everyday--it is called bullying. Unfortunately, unlike this movie, the violence in real life sometimes doesn't end happily.

Ariel said...

Thanks for the review, Sue. I've heard mixed reviews and have been curious as to whether or not to go see the movie in theaters or wait until it comes out on DVD. I'm leaning more towards the latter now. Movie tickets + popcorn are too expensive now anyway!

Marie said...

When I first heard there was a remake of The Karate Kid I was really looking forward to seeing it. I saw a small trailer which looked pretty good then I discovered it wasn't about karate at all this time (but Kung Fu). Nothing wrong with that, except if you're going to make a Kung Fu movie then make it stand in it's own right. DON'T try to cash in on a successful 80s franchise (even if you hate the original movies, you have to admit they were a massive success in their day). To me it smacked of not having any confidence in the movie that they would need to do that.
That said, I still wanted to see it because I don't like to make judgement on a film until I've watched it. I suspect we'll probably wait for the DVD now so I can at least screen it before letting Grace see it.

Thanks for the review Sue.

xMx

SueC said...

Hi Tracy, the thing with a movie that is basically aimed at kids is that the values and moral messages it portrays need to be clear, unambiguous and transparent. You cannot expect children to move beyond the script to extract deeper meanings. I think kids will take home from this movie that you deal with violent bullies with more violence - learn to fight so that you can kick their asses back!

I also think that a movie like this IS judged on real life terms because it is set in the real world in modern times - it is not set in a fantasy world such as 'Forbidden Kingdom' (this was another Jackie Chan kung fu film where the main protagonist was a child and gets his butt kicked - I had no problems with this one).

Also, this film suggests to children that martial arts can be used to bully other kids and/or defend against such bullying. In reality most playground fights involve mainly effectual scrapping. Most kids don't know how to seriously hurt each other!

SueC said...

Hi Ariel, Marie - you obviously have to make up your own mind on this film. I know other people have enjoyed it. I don't usually have strong emotional reactions to films (I usually suspend my disbelief and take a film at face value) but with this one I really did feel uncomfortable about it - and that hasn't changed on reflection :-)

Frank said...

I have what may be an odd question, but if the movie is about KUNG FU, then why in the hell are they calling it, "The KARATE Kid"??

I don't even think I'll bother seeing this on DVD, now that I think about it. Yeesh....

SueC said...

Hi Frank, like Marie said - cashing in on a successful 1980's franchise....

Frank said...

Hollywood is soooo out of original ideas, it's pathetic. *shaking my head*

T. said...

In China, this movie was released as "Kung Fu Dream." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Karate_Kid_(2010_film)

Why is it so bad that the movie industry is trying to cash in on something? To argue that it is bad is to make a source argument, an ad hominem attack. To me this argument doesn't strike me as anything unique--brand appeal is a fact of capitalism and most profit-making ventures. An argument that says calling it "The Karate Kid" is bad is more substantial if you can make a case for trying to homogenize the various types of martial arts or Asians in general. To argue over semantics and assert that this would be a contributing reason to not watch a movie sounds rather illogical.

I would also like to clarify some of my previous comments. First, I did not mean that I expected children to move beyond the script. I think that parents and more knowledgeable adults should aim to use the movie as an example of what not to do. Second, it is important to accept that parents do not always have control over the types of messages kids are bombarded with each day. What is more productive, again, is to realize that this movie provides us with a framework for starting a conversation with our children.

Moreover, I do not think that you can draw a bright line distinction of where to judge movies on real life terms vs. fictional terms. Someone getting their head hacked off is someone getting their head hacked off, whether it is 500 years ago or 5 days ago.

I don't think this film explicitly suggests that martial arts can be used to bully other kids. It suggests that going to an adult instead of hiding your problems is the most productive way. It also suggests that martial arts is useful if you train correctly and use it ONLY in self-defense. I think the movie made it pretty clear that the violence INITIATED by the other kids was on the wrong side.

One last thing: the tournament. Seriously, this tournament was not nearly as bad as some of the things in actual tournaments. Screaming and waving hands--then proceeding to call it "REAL TAEKWONDO." Yeah, right. Extreme board breaking with flips--extreme martial arts. For me, it is these real life events where people personally experience the action that is more dangerous in my opinion.

Watching these on a movie screen may be a contributing factor, but it is certainly not necessary nor sufficient for causing a kid to think a certain way. If we are looking at the larger scope of how a kid will think or act, this isn't too much of a departure from what they are already seeing.

T. said...
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T. said...
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T. said...
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T. said...

Forgive me...I posted the same comment three times. -___-

BobSpar said...

This is a smart review, Sue. I hadn't thought about the level of violence the movie presents to kids.

What I liked most about it was the scenes of China, rural and urban. But you raise excellent criticisms.

SueC said...

T, thank you for putting your view point about this film so eloquently. Even though we don't agree on some of the issues it is always valuable to hear another point of view.

Bob, the cinematography was beautiful - I'd love to go up that mountain!

Felicia said...

Hmmm. It is kinda hard to do a movie about martial arts where the climax takes place around a tournament and hot have some violence, no? After all, it is about physical contact by nature. I kinda expect to see fight scenes in a karate flick- several, actually!

I do hear you about the violence, Sue, but the original had the same issue. The Cobra Kai fighters were mean and nasty! They beat Daniel -san up a few times before he started training. I thought Jaden Smith did a good job and the fight scene where Jackie Chan "beat up" the thugs was quite clever (because he didn't hit any of them, just caused them to trip each other up and crash into each other). I was disappointed when I found out it was really about Kung Fu (and I like Kung Fu, but...), but I'm sure it got lots of kids to head off to someone's martial arts school - even if it was just so they could do vertical kicks, too. That's good for something, I think...

SueC said...

Hi Felicia, I generally love martial arts films - I like watching the fight scenes, really.

I think my main problem with this film is that it was violence between kids, and not just violence but real hatred too. It's those strong negative emotions that I found difficult to watch. I also disliked the fact that adults were condoning and supporting children fighting with each other, and I don't mean just a sparring competition (that would be okay) but they were supporting a real grudge match and wanting their kid to do serious injury to the other kid.

I agree you can't have a martial arts film without seeing some violence and I have no problem when it's between adults or is set in a fantasy world (lots of wire fu, mystical creatures like the monkey king etc.) I also like the more art house films like Kung Fu Hustle and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - I can even cope with subtitles for those films.

But there was something about the Karate Kid that I didn't like!

Keith said...

I love the original—everything about it is right from the actors to the setting to the whole "vibe." I'm really sad to hear that this remake is that brutal.

SenseiMattKlein said...

Some good observations here Sue. Yes the film was a little violent, and the tournament was a joke reality-wise. Entertaining--yes. I have written a few articles about this movie on my blog. Please check my link.

Max said...

I like the film but i have to agree to the violent part of the kids especially the bullying part.

SueC said...

Hi Keith, I thought it was a bit brutal for kids, but not everyone agrees with me so I suppose everyone has to make up their own mind :-)

Hi Matt, can't find your articles about the film - can you give me the link?

Hi Max, it was definitely a bit too full on for me. Thanks for commenting.

SenseiMattKlein said...

Hi Sue, the link is http://karate-kids.com.au/blog/. Scroll down and you will find all the posts about the Karate Kid Movie. Thanks for your interest.

Ronald said...

I have seen the remake of the Karate Kid having Jackie Chan as the master and I like it so much. My kids love it too... We watched it like five times already. The characters were so good and very realistic in portraying the role. Congratulation to all of them for a job well done.

SueC said...

Ronald, I'm glad you enjoyed the film. Unfortunately this one just wasn't for me!

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