The Karate Kid (2010)


The Karate Kid (2010)

Jackie Chan explains to Jaden Smith why his forearm isn't as long as the Great Wall of China.

(Columbia) Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Rongguang Yu, Zhenwei Wang, Han Wenwen, Shijia Lu, Luke Carberry. Directed by Harold Zwart

Relocating to a different place, particularly one with a vastly different culture, carries with it inherent feelings of loneliness and isolation. These feelings can be exacerbated if you’re the victim of bullying.

Dre Parker (Smith) has seen his world turned upside down. First, his father dies. Now, his mom (Henson) is being transferred by the auto manufacturer she works for in Detroit to their new plant in Beijing, China. All Dre knows is that he has been ripped away from everything he knows and cares about to live in a strange new place where nobody speaks English, the food is weird and funny, terrible smells waft about at any given moment.

Initially he finds some solace in the violin prodigy Meiying (Wenwen) who actually does speak English, and the lone Western friend Harry (Carberry) that he finds in his apartment complex. However, his relationship with Meiying attracts the attention of Cheng (Wang), the school bully who happens to be the best Kung Fu student in the class of Master Li (Yu), a brutal sort who believes that Kung Fu is meant to be the means not only to victory but complete annihilation.

The beatings that Dre gets from Cheng and his gang become progressively worse until what appears to be the beatdown to end all beatdowns is interrupted by the taciturn handyman Mr. Han (Chan) who as it turns out is a Kung Fu master. At first, Han is reluctant to train Dre but when Han is backed into a corner by Master Li, he agrees to train Dre for the open Kung Fu tournament that is coming up soon.

Dre’s attitude is not the easiest to get along with and both his mom and Mr. Han are frustrated with him but as Dre learns to let go of his preconceptions and find his inner stillness, Dre undergoes a metamorphosis from a scared little boy into a strong, courageous young man.

The movie is based on the 1984 film of the same name, with Chan taking on the Oscar-nominated role that Pat Morita made into an icon, and Smith assuming the mantle left by Ralph Macchio. In many ways, the movie is almost a reverent remake of the first film; while not note-for-note, it certainly captures most of the main highlights of the movie and references them sometimes obliquely but usually in a pretty straightforward manner.

Chan has made a career of being a bit of a clown; while nobody can doubt his martial arts skills, he has always played characters on the light side, with a healthy dose of self-kidding. This is far from those kinds of characters, as Mr. Han has a dark secret that haunts him which gets released with some prodding from Dre. There is a scene in a car midway through the movie which is as impressive as any work that Chan has ever done.

Director Zwart also makes good use of the Chinese landscape, with beautiful vistas of mountains, lakes, as well as magnificent shots of iconic locations like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. China is a gorgeous country (having seen it firsthand only a month ago), and it is certainly one of the selling points for the film. Da Queen was particularly nostalgic about a scene set in a Beijing hutong, a specific type of alleyway where there are groups of traditional courtyard houses and is one of the most charming aspects of Beijing life.

Jaden Smith, so good in The Pursuit of Happyness is somewhat inconsistent here.  He has some moments that resonate emotionally in a realistic way, and then others that don’t ring as true. Da Queen thought more highly of him than I did; she seems to think he has a very bright future ahead of him and honestly, I don’t see why not either.

Kids seem to like this movie a great deal, and there’s good reason for that. Jaden is pretty appealing in most of the movie and the Kung Fu is pretty spectacular for those who haven’t seen some of the better examples of Chinese martial arts movies. The ending, while predictable, has a nice little twist in a nod to the original film and you’ll definitely leave the theater with a good feeling inside. One can’t fault a movie for accomplishing that alone; those expecting more may wind up disappointed.

REASONS TO GO: Heart-warming in its own way with a particularly strong performance from Chan. Beautiful cinematography of Chinese locations and monuments.

REASONS TO STAY: Smith’s performance is a bit uneven and those who saw the first film are going to feel a sense of déjà vu.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some pretty intense scenes of bullying and violence and a couple of bad words, but all in all most audiences should be okay with it, and it certainly would make a good jumping off point for conversations with the kids about bullying.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scene of the woman mesmerizing the cobra on the dragon statue while in the crane position is a tribute to the original film, in which Ralph Macchio defeats the Cobra Kai with a move from the crane position.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the vistas of China are amazing and should be seen in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Blind Date (2009)

Program Notes


There are a lot of things going on here at Cinema365 and I just want to share a few things with you.

First of all, we set a new site record for views in a single day with 177 on Monday. Most of you came in to read my review of The Bounty Hunter but a lot stopped in at other pages as well. Thank you all for your continued support; I’ll admit that was a bit flukey, but overall, viewership/readership/whatever you want to call it is up. I’m not sure if I’m ready for the site to start <gulp> making money but hopefully it will start to attract some attention.

As I mentioned in a post last week, the Florida Film Festival is coming and Cinema365 will be attending six screenings at the three main venues, including the brand spankin’ new Plaza in downtown Orlando. All save one of the movies I’ll be seeing will get full reviews within a day or two of me seeing it (the films have all been released on the limited market prior to the Film Festival). The lone exception is Winter’s Bone which is not scheduled for its limited release until June. Out of respect for the filmmakers and the distributor, we will only run a mini-review for the film during the festival and will post the full review on its scheduled release date.

My wife, Da Queen and I will be taking a vacation starting May 15 – we’re going to be going to China! Quite frankly, I have no intention of lugging the laptop all over Asia with me, so the site will not be updated during the nearly three weeks we’re gone. This is smack in the middle of May, one of the most important months for major studio releases of the year. The intention is to see Robin Hood the day its released on May 14 and post the review early the next morning before we leave. That will be my last posting until we return. We will be trying to catch up with the other big studio releases of late May and the first week of June (which will include Shrek Forever After and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) and begin playing catch-up when we get home. Hopefully this won’t inconvenience you too much.

Previews are a big part of what we do here. Along with the weekly previews of movies opening up in Orlando every Wednesday (this week’s edition will be posted later this afternoon), we also do two seasonal previews as well as an annual preview. The first seasonal preview of the year is the 2010 Summer Preview and it will be posted on Thursday, April 29 for your reading pleasure. It will cover the months of May through August and will be as complete and as accurate as I can make it as of that date. Both the 2009 Fall Preview and the 2010 Preview have received some of the largest number of view of any pages here at C-365 so hopefully you will find the 2010 Summer Preview useful and fun.

In the spirit of that Iam going to be presenting a new monthly feature that will be debuting tomorrow. It’s called “Four-warned” and will act as a kind of anticipation meter for all the films scheduled for release for the upcoming month. In the future I will try to post this around the 15th of every month for the month following. I will choose the four movies I’m most anticipating for that month (which will all generally be reviewed as a new release that month) and rate my level of anticipation on a scale of one to four. This is not meant to be a review of the quality of these films – merely a way of communicating whether or not I’m looking forward to seeing them. There won’t be a lot of prose other than one or two sentences concerning the plot and the type of release its getting (wide, limited or special run) but hopefully this will serve to help you get a handle on what’s due to come out in the next four weeks and the information should be a bit more up-to-date than the seasonal previews.

This site is a labor of love and obsession, and its gratifying to know that it is catching on with some people. We’re averaging about 175 views a week (although this week will be significantly higher than that) and hopefully that will continue to grow. If you like what you see here, feel free to talk it up with your friends or post the link on your social network page (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter etc.). Oh, and for those who are interested, yes indeed I have accounts on all of those networks; if you want to add me as a friend or follow me, leave me a comment with a link to your page or your e-mail address and I’ll add you or send you a link to mine.

Thanks again and happy movie-going!

Red Cliff


Red Cliff

A scene of majesty and dignity from Red Cliff as Lin Chiling approaches Zhang Fengyi's headquarters.

(Magnet) Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Zhang Fenyi, Lin Chiling, Shido Nakamura, You Yong, Ba Sen Zha Bu, Hou Yong, Philip Hersh (voice), Jiang Tong, Song Jia, Tong Dawei. Directed by John Woo

Chinese history is a rich and varied one, which sadly remains largely unknown in the West. One of the great events in the history of China is the Battle of Red Cliff, which took place in 209 AD during the Han Dynasty.

Cao Cao (Fenyi) is the ruthless and ambitious Prime Minister of the Han Dynasty. He has quelled rebel warlords in Northern China, successfully reuniting territory that had been fractured under years of ineffectual rule. He is the de facto ruler of China; even the Emperor quails before him. He has turned his sights to the South and two warlords who he feels are a threat to his agenda – the usurpation of the thrown for himself.

Liu Bei (Yu Yong) has been spectacularly unsuccessful as a warlord, losing battle after battle. Sun Quan is an ambitious but inexperienced ruler whose advisors have constantly counseled against battle, leading to a wide perception that Sun Quan is a coward. Cao Cao is unimpressed with either; he snorts derisively “When a loser joins forces with a coward, what can be accomplished?” at the thought of the alliance between the two squabbling Southerners.

In truth, the alliance between the two falls into his plans perfectly, giving him the excuse to invade the South. In a skirmish against Liu Bei, Liu Bei’s army is decimated, although in fairness he leaves them on the battlefield long enough to protect the civilian population of the area to flee, at the cost of his wife who dies during the conflict. Bei, knowing he cannot stand against the vast army of Cao Cao (which is said to number over 800,000) alone, sends his military strategist Zhuge Liang (Kaneshiro) to entreat Sun Quan to join forces. As expected, Sun Quan’s ministers are advising him to surrender. Liang however decides on a different route of persuasion; he wins the heart and mind of Zhou Yu (Leung), the mightiest warrior in the South and something of a mentor to Sun Quan. Zhou Yu is also married to Xiao Qiao (Chiling), a renowned beauty whom Cao Cao has had a crush on for many years.

Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu bond over a mutual love of music and the alliance is joined. The two armies encamp at a place called Red Cliff near the Yangtze River. In the meantime, Cao Cao’s flotilla approaches. Destiny awaits the victor and China one way or another will never be the same.

Director John Woo made his reputation directing action films in Hong Kong back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s before departing for a celebrated career in Hollywood, which includes such titles as Mission: Impossible II, Face Off and Broken Arrow. He has rarely attempted period dramas before and certainly none on this scale, but he pulls it off like he’s channeling Cecil B. deMille. The most expensive movie produced in Asia to date, it has been a monster hit in China, released a la Kill Bill in two parts.

The battle sequences are absolutely amazing. Soldiers march in formations with shields interlocked to protect from arrows which rain down from the sky in a downpour of death. Fire is used in spectacular fashion, rolling across ships and men in waves. Visually, this is eye candy of the highest order.

The friendship of Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang are at the center of the story and Kaneshiro and Leung have chemistry that works – call it “bromistry” if you like. They seem to genuinely like each other and that shows onscreen. Chiling makes a marvelous Helen of Troy sort, beautiful, alluring and graceful – I can see where Cao Cao might invade for her sake (as is implied).

Western audiences may have difficulty keeping all the characters straight – there are a whole lot of them and their names can be similar. Woo says he based the movie on the more historically accurate “Records of Three Kingdoms” (a document written in the 3rd century chronicling events beginning with the battle) rather than the popular 14th century Chinese novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” which is more familiar to the Chinese people and helped make the battle a major part of Chinese folklore, not unlike how Homer’s “Odyssey” did the same for the siege of Troy in the West.

The Western release was culled down from nearly four and a half hours of the two Chinese volumes into a two and a half hour epic. I started to get restless with about 20 minutes to go in the movie; it is a little long trying to set the stage for the events but quite frankly once it gets into the battle scenes (which are wall to wall starting with the second act), the movie hums along at a blistering pace.

Those who miss movies like Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia will be sated with this. Beautifully shot with the Chinese eye for gracefulness and color, the movie appeals on a great many levels. There are some very humorous sequences (such as Zhuge Liang’s ingenious method of acquiring arrows) and some romantic ones between Zhou Yu and Xiao Qiao. Still, this is the kind of movie that will thrill you even if you have a distaste for subtitles.

REASONS TO GO: This is the kind of epic that is rarely made these days. The battle sequences are nothing short of astonishing and reason enough to see the movie by themselves. Leung and Kaneshiro make appealing leads.

REASONS TO STAY: It can be difficult to tell one character apart from another given Western unfamiliarity with Chinese names and the fairly large set of major characters. The movie is about 20 minutes too long.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of battlefield bloodiness.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Chinese Army lent over 100,000 soldiers to work as extras in the battle scenes.

HOME OR THEATER: While this might be hard to find in theaters, do seek it out – given the epic scale it deserves the presentation that a big screen affords.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Invictus