THE KARATE KID
Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan,
Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han,
and Zhenwei Wang
Audience: All ages
Runtime: 140 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures/Sony
Director: Harald Zwart
Executive Producer: Dany Wolf, Susan Ekins and Han
Producer: Jerry Weintraub, Will Smith,
Jada Pinkett Smith, James
Lassiter, and Ken Stovitz
Writer: Christopher Murphey
Address Comments To:Michael Lynton, Chairman/CEO
Amy Pascal, Chairman - Motion Picture Group
Sony Pictures Entertainment
(Columbia Pictures/TriStar/Screen Gems/Provident/Triumph Films)
10202 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232-3195
Phone: (310) 244-4000; Fax: (310) 244-2626
Web Page: www.spe.sony.com/
The story opens with a young boy, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith), and his mother (Taraji P. Henson) leaving Detroit to move permanently to Beijing. In China, not only does the 11-year-old fish out of water have a language barrier to contend with, but “SpongeBob SquarePants” is in Chinese and there’s no hot water.
It hasn’t even been a week at his new school, and Dre finds himself in a fight with the school’s most accomplished kung fu student, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang). Cheng bothers Dre after Dre shares musical tastes with a pretty violinist, Meiying (Wenwen Han).
Lucky for Dre, the maintenance man responsible for restoring his apartment’s hot water is more than a curmudgeonly custodian – he is a topnotch kung fu master. One day after school, Dre is on the run from Cheng and his not-so-merry men. Cornered with nowhere to run, Dre is beaten up once again. Just before Cheng can deliver the “death blow,” he’s stopped by Mr. Han (played by Jackie Chan) who proceeds to skillfully fend off Cheng’s gang by amazingly turning them against each other with mind-blowing anticipation, stellar reflexes, and extraordinary focus.
After Dre and his reluctant teacher go to Cheng’s teacher to make peace, they witness Cheng and his kung fu peers chanting, “No weakness! No pain! No mercy!” during the training. Mr. Han reluctantly makes a deal that Dre must enter an upcoming kung fu tournament to prevent himself and Mr. Han from facing the wrath of Cheng’s cruel instructor, Master Li (Rongguang Yu), who is incensed to learn it’s Mr. Han who is responsible for Cheng’s black eye.
The training begins, but not the way Dre imagined it would. Day after day, rain or shine, Dre is given the mundane task of taking off his jacket, hanging it up, dropping it, putting it on, and repeating this sequence ad nauseam. Meanwhile, he and Meiying “pinky swear” that each will attend the other’s tournament and audition, respectively.
When Dre refuses to endure the monotony of his single drill, his frustration precipitates a stunning sequence in which Mr. Han proves the drill’s significance by forcing his young student to apply its kung fu elements. From that point, Dre’s dedication intensifies as he and his teacher traverse China, learning the principles of kung fu and implementing them in grand locations, such as the Great Wall. It is during these outings that Taoist and other mystical Eastern spiritual philosophies are mentioned and alluded to as Mr. Han explains inward energy or qi (“chi”) to Dre and introduces him to “magic kung fu water.”
Quite unexpectedly, Mr. Han gives Dre a day off from his training. Dre coerces Meiying to give herself a day of fun as well, and the children show off their dance moves before Meiying learns her audition has been rescheduled for that afternoon. After her marvelous performance, Meiying’s parents tell her she can no longer be friends with Dre. Upset by this news, Dre runs to Mr. Han, only to learn the reason for the training hiatus.
Rushing into Mr. Han’s house, Dre finds his teacher drunk, bashing the car he’s been repairing in his house. Viewers find out that this day is the anniversary of a car wreck in which his wife and son died. In one of the tenderest moments of the film, Dre pulls his despondent tutor from the car, and the two begin to train again in an exquisite mock fight sequence in which their silhouettes dance beautifully against a brick wall illuminated by the car’s headlights.
It’s back to training montages as Dre prepares himself to be a worthy opponent for the kung fu punks. The climactic tournament is chock full of action and suspense that will have viewers clapping and cheering right along with the characters. By the final round, both Dre and Mr. Han epitomize their mantra that “life will knock us down, but we can choose to get back up.”
Though 140 minutes, THE KARATE KID’s leisurely pace allows time to explore the beauty and culture of China, including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Both Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan give terrific performances, aptly blending humor and levity with sincerity and firmness. Almost everything works to give moviegoers a very entertaining, if a bit long and predictable, time at the cinema.
There is a solid moral undertone throughout the movie as respect, wisdom, kindness, self-control, and honor are affirmed by Mr. Han and exhibited by Dre. Regrettably, there is also a pagan worldview expressed whereby an individual garners power from within by mystical means. As expected in a martial arts movie, there is substantial action and fighting violence, but this is either tempered by the context of kung fu or appropriately punished and shown as immoral.
The movie’s pagan elements require significant caution. Parents, teachers and Christian leaders must teach their children, students and disciples the differences between biblical truth and reality and other religions and philosophies, including Eastern mysticism. Eastern mysticism often teaches disciples they must become one with the universe around them. This often leads to the fatalism that stagnated the nations of the East for so many centuries. This is completely different from the good news that the Creator of the Universe has a wonderful, liberating, fulfilling, plan for each person’s life in the communion and fellowship with God that Christians experience when they accept Jesus Christ as their Divine Savior.
KARATE KID is very entertaining, if a bit long and predictable at times. It is light on foul language and features moderate violence in keeping with kung fu, but includes one display of drunkenness. The movie has some positive moral messages, namely that respect should be shown to everyone and that peace is desired over violence. However, caution is suggested due to some propagandistic references to Eastern spiritual mysticism.