Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Harald Zwart
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Han Wen Wen, Taraji R. Henson
(PG, 140 min.)
"I never wanted to be the next Bruce Lee. I just wanted to be the first Jackie Chan." Jackie Chan
Don’t call it a remake; it’s a classic. Jackie Chan still has the moves, but acting chops as well, and Jaden Smith’s man-child is terrific, at once sullen and sweet, courageous and cowardly.
The basic narrative of the 1984 original is there. Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is the new kid in town, tormented by the local bullies, and then mentored in the martial arts by the unassuming apartment maintenance man.
Three subtle changes intensify the story. First of all, the move is not just from East to West Coast, as it was in the 1984 original, but from Detroit to China. Thus, Dre is not just the new kid in town, but a stranger in a strange land, where he knows neither the language nor the customs. The China we see in the film is the best of old and new, from the sparkling Olympic stadium to those classic tourist icons, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Left to our imagination is the Detroit Dre has left behind, but we all know it is no shining city on a hill, as the film’s Beijing appears to be.
Another change is the “kid’s” age. Dre is not a high school senior, but a 12 year old, that vulnerable age when the body and mind are neither child nor adult, that awkward and tender period when falling for a girl or getting beaten by your new classmates can be equally catastrophic. Jaden Smith, who charmed us as the cherubic son of real life screen dad Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness, breathes new life into this role.
Third and finally, real martial arts pro Jackie Chan is made for the role of maintenance man/mentor, Mr. Han, demonstrating the prowess he is known for in one scene where he fights off at least 6 bullies at once, improvising in a style only his own that has the bad guys literally bouncing off each other. The real surprise here is Chan’s serous acting skills. Gone are the comic antics, the self-deprecating smiles. Mr. Han is a “quicksilver piece of damaged goods,” (Chuck Koplinski),complete with an old leather hat that looks a lot like the one the god Mercury himself wore. He says everything with just a look, a facial expression, or his slightly arthritic bow-legged walk.
In fact, Chan in real life is the embodiment of the underdog. Short and stocky, he never had the lean athletic grace of a Bruce Lee, so he exploited his own strengths with his comic reluctance to fighting while rallying to save himself with whatever was at hand -- an umbrella, a packing box, or a ladder. And who can forget those outtakes that roll after his films, when we see all the times things didn’t go quite according to plans?
Chan's training sequences in The Karate Kid range from homespun and practical to mystic and awe inspiring. Mr. Han begins by teaching Dre to him pick up his jacket, hang it on a pole, take it off the pole, put it on, and finally, take it off and drop it to the ground again. He makes Dre do this end on end, day after day, even in the pouring rain while he helpfully holds an umbrella up for him. Dre and we suspect it is to teach him a moral lesson. Mr. Han has witnessed him carelessly throw his jacket to the floor at home and them sass his mother when she asks him to pick it up. The look on Mr. Han’s face when he sees this disrespect shows how well Jackie Chan registers his emotions without as word, perhaps a trick he learned to compensate for poor English in his early acting days.
Of course, the act has symbolic applications as well, teaching humility, obedience, and respect. But it also has taught Dre a series of maneuvers that are second nature to him now, as he expertly blocks Mr. Han’s blows by following the jacket sequence.
Another homespun tactic involves a sheet draped over a clothesline with Dre on one side and Mr. Han wielding a gloved pole on the other. The trick for Dre is learning to anticipate the pole and its attack without ever seeing it. Of course this is reminiscent of the hyper-sensitivity taught by the blind master Po to young Kwau Chang Caine on television’s King Fu:
Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?
And it also reminds us that the title, Karate Kid is the only reference to that Japanese art; the one practiced in this film is the Chinese Kung Fu.
A climb to the dragon fountain at the top of the Wudang Mountains is at the mystical/awesome level, with kung fu masters demonstrating the impossible or suicidal, such balancing on one leg on a timber extended over a mountain while “dancing” with a cobra in a pot at the end of it. Dre is impressed that the female king fu artist –(Michelle Yeoh in an uncredited cameo) – is able to imitate every move of the cobra. But no, Mr. Han corrects him; the cobra is imitating her.
The finale, of course, is the Kung Fu tournament where Dre tests his newly acquired skills against the bullies who tormented him. It is terrific, the level of fighting is magnificent to behold, and Dre hangs in there with the rest of the talent. And the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, as my three grandsons, aged 4, 5, and 7, lasted through the nearly 2 1/2 hour film without a gripe. (The extra large popcorn helped a bit, too.)
At the end they were standing in their seats and cheering as I suspect the grownups were doing as well, albeit at a more mature, metaphorical level, of course.
While his mother finds her new job in Beijing exciting, waxing poetic even about the local ice cream, Dre is off to a rough start. The first day there he incurs the wrath of a group of very well-schooled martial arts bullies, who not only humiliate him at the local park, but stalk him at school and just about everywhere he goes. Needless to say, these early days are an eternity of torment to him, a sour lot.
But that lot is sweetened by his infatuation with his beautiful new classmate Meiying, who shares the attraction and melts him with her smile.
What, then, is more fitting then this delectable dish from Beijing, Mandarin Hot and Sour Soup?
Mandarin Hot and Sour Soup
8 cups soup stock
1/4 pound lean pork
1/2 square bean curd, optional
1/4 cup shredded bamboo shoots
3 dried black mushrooms
2 tablespoons sliced can button mushrooms
4 dried wood ears, optional*
2 green onions, chopped
1 slice cooked ham, shredded
4 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon chili oil, optional
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 eggs lightly beaten
3 tablespoons cornstarch in
3 tablespoons water
Mushrooms found in your local Asian Shop.
Bring soup stock to a boil, add shredded pork, black mushrooms and wood ears. Cook 2 to 3 minutes.
Add remainder of ingredients and seasonings, except cornstarch, eggs, and green onion; reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes.
Thicken with cornstarch and turn off heat.
Slowly pour in beaten eggs in a thin stream while stirring. Serve immediately.
Garnish with green onion.
If soup is to be prepared ahead of time, do not add cornstarch and eggs until serving time. Otherwise the egg will be overcooked and spoil the appearance.
Soup should be quite hot and sour. Adjust the hotness with varying amount of white pepper and the sourness with different amounts of vinegar.
Recipe Source: Razzle Dazzle Recipes.com