AWFJ Women On Film – “The Karate Kid” – Review by Susan Granger

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This is more of an update than a remake of the iconic 1984 original which paired young Ralph Macchio with Pat Morita. While the concept is the same, the locale has moved from California to the Far East.

After his dad dies, 12 year-old Dre Parker’s (Jaden Smith) widowed mom (Taraji P. Henson) makes a career move from Detroit to Beijing, so Dre suddenly finds himself in China, where the language, customs and chopsticks are unfamiliar. While he makes one friend, violin-playing Mei Ying, he also makes an enemy, Cheng, the class bully. During their first scuffle, Dre tries to use a little karate but, in this land of kung fu fighting, sadistic Cheng and his Flying Dragon buddies beat him up and continue to terrorize him after school with alarming regularity until a maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), comes to his rescue. A wushu master, Mr. Han is disgusted with the aggressiveness taught at a local academy, noting: “Kung Fu is for knowledge, for helping people, for peace…No bad students, just bad teachers.” So he patiently trains Dre in the ancient art, preparing him to compete against Cheng in a sanctioned tournament.

Building on Robert Mark Kamen’s familiar story, screenwriter Christopher Murphey and director Harald Zwart (“Agent Cody Banks”) expand the lonely, fatherless son/childless mentor theme, evoking familiar training moments as the repetitive car-waxing sequence becomes “jacket on, jacket off.”

Jackie Chan is renowned for his martial arts expertise and, after training with Chan’s stunt coordinator, Wu Gang, Jaden Smith’s athletic prowess is convincing, augmented by his inherent charm and inherited acting ability. (His mom is Jada Pinkett Smith and his dad is Will Smith, with whom Jaden starred in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”)

While Roger Pratt’s cinematography is stunning, two-and-a-half hours of sight-seeing in the Forbidden City, the Wudang Mountains and the Great Wall is far too long for family fare. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Karate Kid” is a wise, poignant, satisfying 7, delivering a timeless message across the generations and decades.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.