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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Karate Kid

October 4th, 2010

The Karate Kid - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray, or Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack

The The Karate Kid was a film that seemed quite unnecessary to make, as the original is considered by many to be a classic and there were concerns that the remake would not be able to top the original. Despite these concerns, the film turned into one of the biggest surprise hits earning $175 million domestically and $350 million worldwide. But does it's quality match its box office performance?

The Movie

We first meet Dre Parker as he is getting ready to leave his home for the last time. His mother, Sherry Parker, got a job promotion that is taking her to China.

Being the new kid and an obvious outsider to the culture is tough, but he does meet Mei Ying, a fellow classmate and a violinist. He instantly develops a crush on her, but that doesn't sit well with Cheng. Cheng is a Kung Fu master, despite his young age, and while Dre knows a little karate, he's no match for Cheng, who uses his skills to beat up and bully Dre repeatedly. During one attack, Dre is rescued by Mr. Han, the maintenance man. Despite his unassuming appearance, Mr. Han is a master of Kung Fu. Cheng's teacher, Li, challenges Dre to a fight, Mr. Han agrees, but only if it takes place at an upcoming tournament.

There's going to be a training montage. (Although, as a minor complaint, the early part of the training here wasn't as well done as in the first film. In the original, one could logically conclude that waxing the car and painting the fence was not real training, but chores. Taking off ones jacket and putting it back one serves no purpose by itself, so there must be something more to these tasks. It's a minor change, but weakens the scenes.)

You can probably guess what happens from here, especially if you've seen the original. In fact, if you've seen the original, you will know what's going to happen right from the start. There are two actual changes of substance in this movie, and I'm not counting the Kung Fu / Karate bit. They could have chosen jujitsu, capoeira, Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, or hell, even sumo had they wanted to, and it would not have changed the plot very much. No, the two main changes are moving the movie to China and changing the age of the characters. In the first case, this is an improvement, as it amplifies the sense of isolation. Being the new kid is tough, but being the new kid experiencing an unfamiliar culture and dealing with a new language is a lot tougher. Although that last part is minimized, as everyone in China seems to speak English very well, certainly better than most people online can.

On the other hand, the second major change pretty much killed the movie for me. In the original, all of the kids were in their mid to late teens, which made the romance and the fighting more acceptable. In the remake, the kids are all in the tweens, which makes the romance, and especially the fighting, much more difficult to take. I guess you could argue that the young age makes the brutality of the fight more visceral, and therefore have more impact. However, trying to have a 13-year old villain is less than effective. Watching him try to scowl and the only reaction I had was, "Dude, I have underwear older than you. Stop trying to be intimidating."

As for the two leads, I thought Jaden Smith was not as good in this role as Ralph Macchio was, and not just because of the problems with the age of the character. I don't think he has the experience to pull it off. Maybe in a few years. Jackie Chan, on the other hand, is much better in his role than Jaden is in his, but I wouldn't call him a real improvement over Pat Morita. That might have to do with the writing, as Mr. Miyagi felt like a richer character with more depth to him.

Finally, fire cupping? Really? Next they are going to use augury to predict the moves of his opponent. Or better yet, make a voodoo doll of your opponents, because then you are guaranteed to win.

In short, Jaden Smith is too young and too inexperienced an actor to be the lead in a film like The Karate Kid. Casting tweens instead of teens was a mistake. On the other hand, Jackie Chan was good in the role and having the film set in China helped. But overall, I would much rather just watch the original than see this pointless remake.

On the other hand, The Karate Kid may have made as much worldwide as the previous franchise made in total, so I appear to be in the minority here. (The first three in the franchise were released before publishing international numbers was common, so it is hard to tell how much they made. However, they were also made during a time when Hollywood hits would make much more domestically than internationally.)

The Extras

I only have the Blu-ray to review, and not even the Blu-ray / DVD combo pack. However, according tho the back of the box, the DVD has the making of featurette, Chinese lessons, and a music video. The making of featurette is 20 minutes long and is pretty standard stuff. Chinese lessons is comprised of a lot of clips from the movie. While the music video is by Justin Bieber, so hell no, I didn't listen to it. I don't want to have to burn my Blu-ray player and TV and then bury the ashes on consecrated ground.

On a side note, as a Canadian, I feel the need to apologize for Justin Bieber.

Extras on the Blu-ray include an alternate ending, 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, and an interactive map where you can explore locations seen in the movie. There are also BD-Live extras, including the MovieIQ track, which allows you updated biographies of the stars, and other movie trivia to be displayed while watching the film.

For the most part, the film looks really good on Blu-ray, especially the outdoor scenes. I don't know what it is about nature that shines in high definition, but I've noticed that time and time again. On the other hand, there was the occasional scene where I thought the colors were a little washed out. The sound is excellent with strong use of the surround sound speakers with atmospheric and directional effects.

As far as price is concerned, the DVD costs $17 on, while the Blu-ray / DVD / Digital copy combo pack costs $20, which is a tiny price to pay for getting so much more.

The Verdict

The Karate Kid remake is not exactly a bad movie, but it fails to live up to the original in practically every way. The extras on the DVD, Blu-ray, or Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack are not overwhelming, but if you are interested in buying, the Combo Pack is clearly the way to go.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Karate Kid