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The Karate Kid (2010) DVD Review

The Karate Kid (2010) movie poster The Karate Kid

Theatrical Release: June 11, 2010 / Running Time: 140 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Harald Zwart / Writers: Christopher Murphey (screenplay), Robert Mark Kamen (story)

Cast: Jaden Smith (Dre Parker), Jackie Chan (Mr. Han), Taraji P. Henson (Sherry Parker), Wenwen Han (Meiying), Rongguang Yu (Master Li), Zhensu Wu (Meiying's Dad), Zhiheng Wang (Meiying's Mom), Zhenwei Wang (Cheng), Jared Minns (Dre's Detroit Friend), Shijia Lu (Liang), Yi Zhao (Zhuang), Bo Zhang (Song), Luke Carberry (Harry), Michelle Yeoh (Cobra Woman - uncredited)

Buy The Karate Kid (2010) from Amazon.com:
DVD • Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • Blu-ray

In general, nostalgia takes twenty years to ripen. What do "Happy Days", Grease, "The Wonder Years", and "That '70s Show" all have in common? Yes, they all celebrated the past, but the pasts they celebrated were exactly twenty years removed. It makes sense. Twenty years is enough time to crystallize one's cultural awakening and to put former adolescents at an age where they are granted real creative power. Now that it's 2010, we should begin to see the 1990s getting nostalgized in places other than VH1 and digital cable radio stations.

But, perhaps a reflection of expanding lifelines and delayed adulthood, Hollywood still seems pretty pleased with returning us to the 1980s. See Transformers, The A-Team, Hot Tub Time Machine, the sequels to Tron and Wall Street.
The '80s is now the go-to decade for remakes and reboots, not only on famous horror franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but even works as relatively forgotten as Red Dawn. A short list of fondly-recalled '80s flicks lending themselves to a remake/reboot rather than a sequel would have to have included The Karate Kid. It is now stricken from the list, though, on account of this summer's The Karate Kid.

Whether you call it a relocation, a reimagining, a reworking, or all of the above, 2010's Karate Kid is not a straightforward remake of the 1984 hit. That movie saw a wimpy New Jersey teenager (Ralph Macchio) moving to Southern California and getting trained by an Asian handyman (an Oscar-nominated Pat Morita) in karate to overcome bullies. This one sees a pre-teen Detroit boy (Jaden Smith) moving to China and getting trained by an Asian handyman (Jackie Chan) in the art of kung fu to overcome bullies. See? Completely different.

Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) and Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) happen upon the one Chinese location that can bring a smile to an unhappily relocated 12-year-old boy: a kung fu school. Paying tribute to Mr. Miyagi's fly-catching chopstick work, Jackie Chan is thusly introduced as Mr. Han.

Twelve-year-old Dre Parker (Smith) and his widowed mother (Taraji P. Henson) leave the Motor City behind for her work. China offers a challenging change of pace for Dre, who knows next to nothing of the native language. In spite of that barrier, it takes him almost no time to find a plot. Just after settling in, he hits up the neighborhood playground and acquires a love interest in dedicated young violinist Meiying (Wenwen Han) and a foe in the confrontational Cheng (Zhenwei Wang). Meiying, who speaks English far better than Dre speaks Chinese, takes a liking to the American boy, which gives Cheng and his cronies reason to dislike and torment their new classmate.

After Cheng and the boys get in several good hazings at him, Dre strikes back with a serendipitous bucket of dirty water. This inspires immediate retribution, from which Dre is somewhat spared by an opportunely intervening Mr. Han (Chan). No matter how many highly-trained kids come at him, Mr. Han fends them off. When the dust settles, Han determines that the boys' violent ways must be the fault of their kung fu teacher. He's right; the guy (Rongguang Yu) is ridiculously evil, preaching mercilessness to his impressionable pupils. Mr. Han only gets the kids to back off Dre by agreeing to enter the boy in a major upcoming kung fu tournament.

I don't really need to go into any more detail, because the lines are broadly drawn and, whether or not you've seen the original movie, you know exactly how this is going to play out. Mr. Han trains Dre in suspicious ways revealed to be supremely effective. Young love blossoms for Dre and Meiying, but her father comes to disapprove of the relationship. And, of course, it ends in an arena, where Dre gets to put his training to the test against Master Li's ruthless warriors and others.

In the Elisabeth Shue part, Wenwen Han plays young violinist Meiying, to whom Dre brings dishonor. In the spirit of William Zabka comes feisty Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his gang of fellow kung fu students.

This Karate Kid isn't nearly as bad in execution as it sounds on paper. First of all, it must be said that the original movie is not great cinema, but it's a perfectly fine piece of entertainment for which anyone who enjoyed it in childhood maintains a soft spot. Even its biggest fans would be overdramatic to accuse this remake of sacrilege. Still, something seems sketchy when you notice the famous parents of the young star are the producers of this movie.

It's true that Jaden Smith didn't get this part based on his past work, which includes turns in The Pursuit of Happyness and the flop remake The Day the Earth Stood Still. No, Smith was cast because his parents, mega star Will Smith and accomplished veteran Jada Pinkett Smith, carry more than enough industry clout and pull to make it happen. The movie wasn't ever going to be written or made with anyone else in the title role, even though in a fair casting process, Jaden Smith most likely wouldn't have earned the part. That said, no other boy or girl his age (11 during filming and at release) springs to mind as worthy of the pre-title top billing he receives here.

While it's easy to question the young Smith's qualifications with words like "nepotism" and "entitlement", it's harder to find much to dislike about his performance. The acting falls short of the actor's confidence and the whole thing is very controlled and calculated. But in truth, any other child star in the role wouldn't be so closely scrutinized.

Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) is a handyman in more ways than one, as he instructs Dre with a firm grip. Look at this... perfect light for a night training silhouette shot!

Smith's experienced two adult co-stars are more comfortable with their parts. Benjamin Button Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson is a nice choice (one naturally wonders how much thought went to Pinkett Smith playing the part), but ultimately, she's just playing Mom, from a touch of parental snap to the obligatory bleacher enthusiasm. More impressive is Jackie Chan, who for once bends to fit the movie's needs instead of having the movie bend to fit his talents.
Admittedly, I haven't seen much of Chan's extensive international work, but I don't hesitate to call this his best dramatic turn that I've encountered. Chan provides a blend of wisdom and mystery similar to what was supplied by Pat Morita, who earned a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his Mr. Miyagi. It's probably too similar and too soon to earn Chan similar recognition, but it's nice to see him seize this golden opportunity and find some distance from the stunt-based action comedy that's been his bread and butter since Rush Hour.

Norwegian director Harald Zwart makes a strong case for respectability, seemingly his first in nine years of American filmmaking (One Night at McCool's, Agent Cody Banks, The Pink Panther 2). The movie is nicely shot, showing off China to a degree that few big American movies have (state-run China Film Group chipped in on the production). And it's competently put together, even if it runs 1.5 times as long as you'd think. While the film could be trimmed without detriment (about 25 minutes go to the climactic tournament stuff, and at least a couple too many to Mr. Han's jacket on, jacket off lesson), it flows fairly well. Sadly, though, even with a 140-minute runtime, no room is made for a Ralph Macchio cameo or Joe "Bean" Esposito's "You're the Best." We do, however, get Jaden Smith rapping over the end credits alongside Justin "J.B." Bieber. So, there's that.

Many movies underperformed at the box office this summer, but The Karate Kid definitely wasn't one of them. Its $176.6 million (and still counting) domestic earnings trail only Rush Hour 2 and Kung Fu Panda on Chan's résumé and basically the entire martial arts genre. Adjusting for inflation, however, the original Karate Kid's gross comes out to over $200 million, as does its even higher-grossing 1986 sequel The Karate Kid Part II. Speaking of sequels, the Smith/Chan version made enough money to instantly spark follow-up talk. Actually, it's already more than talk. Kung Fu Panda story men Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff have been hired to write the sequel. It may very well move the action stateside, which could parallel Part II's move from L.A. to Japan.

While a sequel probably remains at least two years away from reaching theaters, this one can be enjoyed on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack beginning next Tuesday, October 5th. Here, we look at the lowest-priced and sure to be best-selling of those three releases, the standalone DVD.

Karate Kid (2010) DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $28.96
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($34.95 SRP)
and in Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo ($38.96 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

It's hard to find a Sony DVD transfer that's less than excellent and The Karate Kid's isn't one of the unlucky few. The movie looks terrific in this 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, which displays all the qualities a praiseworthy disc should: rich colors, impeccable clarity, perfect sharpness, and top-notch detail. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio doesn't disappoint either. The mix is largely front-driven, but opens up when appropriate, such as in song-sampling montages, the stadium fight scenes, and the now standard arcade dance to Lady Gaga. The ample Chinese dialogue is translated by a default player-generated subtitle track.

The DVD's fourth Chinese lesson gives you the phrase for announcing a recreational park visit. Justin Bieber and Jaden Smith both look extremely cool in their "Never Say Never" music video. I wish I looked that cool.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Whether in deference to the movie's significant runtime or a sign that Sony is taking hints from its fellow studio's Blu-ray-encouraging tactics, the DVD packs just three bonus features.

First up: "Chinese Lessons"! This interactive feature teaches basic Mandarin words and phrases
in six different groups, including greetings, numbers, and general vocabulary. Where applicable, the phrases are preceded by a clip from the movie featuring them or the English equivalent. It's more substantial and useful than the vast majority of bonus features and more relevant than you might think.

Next comes the real star attraction of this DVD, the music video for end credits song "Never Say Never" (3:50) by Justin Bieber featuring Jaden Smith. Smith dances while Bieber sings and Bieber returns the favor on Smith's rap verse. Now we know what will win the Best Original Song Oscar next February, it's just a matter of sitting back and seeing what two or four other songs get nominated. The video, it's worth noting, does something really unusual, editing between recording studio footage of the two young men performing and clips from the film. How creative!

Mr. Miyagi's (Pat Morita) "wax on, wax off" lesson to Daniel (Ralph Macchio) from the original 1984 "Karate Kid" has more meaning with a sales pitch placed over it, which the making-of featurette thankfully provides. Dre outstretches his legs for training on the DVD's main menu montage.

"Just for Kicks: The Making of The Karate Kid" (20:10) is a promotional but solid featurette that touches upon updating and paying tribute to the original movie, the cast, Jaden Smith's training, the kissing scene, the Chinese locations featured, and James Horner's score.
An all-encompassing making-of like this always trumps shorter, more topical pieces. My one gripe is that it soils its photos and excerpts of the original movie with lingering proclamations that it's available on Blu-ray and DVD. Really? It's on DVD? What isn't? It's annoying enough to discourage potential purchases.

The Blu-ray's exclusive bonus features include the alternate ending "Watch Jackie Chan Fight!", Chan-hosted production diaries, an interactive map of China, BD-Live feature movieIQ+sync, a PlayStation 3 wallpaper theme, and digital copies. Note that the DVD in the Blu-ray + DVD combo drops the three extras of the standalone disc for a digital copy, so those future-guarding their collection with combo packs but currently without a BD player will go Bieberless here.

Disc-loading ads promote Sony's make.believe philosophy, Sony Blu-ray, Grown Ups, Stomp the Yard: Homecoming, and Salt. The Previews menu holds the latter three plus Open Season 3 and Hancock promos.

The DVD's main menu plays a montage in front of a red animated rendering of China. As has become the norm, it's the only non-static, non-silent menu on the disc.

There's nothing special about The Karate Kid's Eco-Box keepcase, until you look inside and find the two Little Caesars coupons for Free Crazy Bread with any pizza purchase, good at different times the rest of this year and early next. I foresee some fun, filling $5 dinners in my future. Thanks, Jackie Chan!

Move out of the way, Ralph Macchio and Hilary Swank; Jaden Smith is the new karate, er, kung fu kid.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

2010's The Karate Kid is short on subtlety and surprises, but so was the film it's based on. Much like that one, this remake emerges as a crowdpleaser, one that today's kids should one day be as nostalgic about as '80s kids are about the original.

The extras on Sony's DVD are adequate and the feature presentation is terrific. If this is one you intend to buy, you'll have to weigh the pros and cons of the standalone DVD and pricier combo pack. The one version you won't want to purchase is the standalone Blu-ray, which Amazon is now selling for the same price as the one equipped with DVD and digital copy.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Blu-ray Combo Pack / Buy Blu-ray

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Jackie Chan: Kung Fu Panda • The Spy Next Door • Rush Hour 3 • Around the World in 80 Days • Mulan
The Smith Family -- Will: Hancock | Jada Pinkett: HawthoRNe: The Complete First Season
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The Secret of the Magic Gourd • Hero • Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior • Mulan II


The Karate Kid (2010) Songs List (in order of use): Jay Sean featuring Sean Paul & Lil Jon - "Do You Remember", John Mayer - "Say", "SpongeBob SquarePants Theme", Colossus - "The Tribute (DJ Zeph Remix)", The Roots - "Here I Come", "Minerva Quartets", Baby Bash featuring Akon - "Baby I'm Back", "Full of Joy", Alyssa Park - "Nocturne for Piano No. 20 in C Sharp Minor", Gorillaz - "Dirty Harry (Schtung Chinese New Year Remix)", "Steppin' Up", K'NAAN featuring Adam Levine - "Bang Bang", Flo Rida - "Low", Lady Gaga - "Poker Face", Balazs Szokolay - "Flight of the Bumblebee", "Xin Ying", AC/DC - "Back in Black", Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Higher Ground", Justin Bieber featuring Jaden Smith - "Never Say Never"

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Reviewed September 29, 2010.



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