UPDATE December 27, 2010. I found a review from “Film Business Asia”, which addresses the fact that the film is “culturally problematical” — something that I figured out from surveying the film, but which seems to have been side-stepped or ignored by the majority of critics. The excerpted review of the culturally-savvy Derek Elley (which awards a rating of 5 out of 10) follows:
Given the global prominence of China, and the massive popularity of U.S. actor Will Smith there, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood connected the dots and Smith (& Family) were involved in a remake set there. The Karate Kid (功夫夢)…[is] somewhere between dramatically sloppy and culturally problematic…
…by moving the 2010 remake to China, a whole set of cultural problems come into play – not least the actual title. (The …Chinese title actually means Kung-fu Dream.) … More problematically, as Dre’s bullies are (by necessity) all native Chinese, the story boils down into yet another Hollywood movie in which an American jets into a foreign country, ingratiates himself with a local girl and (eventually) her family, sorts out a local problem (school bullying), and is applauded for it by…the locals. None of this seems to have worried American audiences, to judge by its spectacular take-off at the U.S. box office in mid-June…
Full “The Karate Kid” review here
The remake of “The Karate Kid”, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden (son of Will) Smith is upon us. Apparently it’s proving popular with U.S. audiences and getting by on the critic’s aggregator websites, although on Metacritic it’s one point away from the “mixed reviews” category with a Metascore of 61.
First of all, the film’s best review title: BECAUSE “THE KUNG FU KID” DOESN’T HAVE BRAND RECOGNITION, THAT’S WHY
(from Antagony & Ecstasy blog, which also calls the film “the most grotesque summer film in memory…” That’s saying something!)
With Jaden Smith’s Mom and Dad as producers, should we call it “The Nepotism Kid”?
I’m not really interested in the remake (or as these things are euphemized these days, “reboot”) as I wasn’t interested in the original. There’s a lot of talk about the original being “beloved”, but the original family movie came out in the mid-’80s when I was vaulting past the “family” movie. I’ve still never seen it and probably never will.
At the time the original “Karate Kid” came out, I was into Chinese kung fu movies on weekend cable TV, or ninja exploitation flicks, or horror; “The Karate Kid” didn’t seem to be where I was at then. I was pretty sure that “karate” was not the crazy action with which those weekend blasts from Asia were zonking me. What’s more, it was a sports movie, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sports movie in theaters except the underwhelming “Chariots of Fire” and that was because I ran cross-country in high school when that came out. On top of that I never bought into the myth / fantasy that there is an Asian master or “sensei” hiding out there somewhere to tutor my privileged Caucasian butt in some form of conveniently packaged Asian philosophy, be it embodied in martial arts or something else. Especially not in the form of “Arnold” from “Happy Days” (Pat Morita in the original film).
But having Jackie Chan assume the role of every American kid’s benefactor plugs into this apparently potent myth. People don’t have to be a kid to have some kind of subconscious fantasy about Jackie Chan teaching them kung fu in some sweet Chinese setting. And there’s a lot to be said about why this is marketed well, although I’ll side-step the ’80s nostalgia factor…to this writer “80s” and “nostalgia” are antithetical.
But the film is not being universally well-received, with the main criticisms being: the film is basically a copy hitting the beats of the original which it doesn’t surpass; the film is too long (140 minutes) — martial arts films never go that long; or that Jaden Smith is just not a good enough actor (this last point seems to be a very divisive one amongst the critics).
Asian-Americans seem to be have mixed feelings about the film; there is grumbling about Jaden Smith getting star billing over Jackie Chan. On the other hand there is appreciation that both leads are people of color. The daughter of Pat Morita from the original “Karate Kid” is calling for a boycott, complaining that the “Asians as martial arts masters” stereotype is crippling Asian actors in Hollywood.
The film won’t be out in China until the 22nd of this month, here the name is somewhat better: KUNG FU DREAM [功夫梦]. At least the martial arts in question are titled correctly and it gets to the point of it all being a fantasy.
While I had contemplated how Chinese “gong fu” and Japanese “karate” got totally mixed up in the making of this film (see ‘best review title’ above), I hadn’t really considered the implications of moving the story to China and having the hero being a USÂ citizen being bullied by Chinese, in China. Revealed plot points brought some unpleasant things into focus. Hero Jaden Smith gets beat up by Beijing bully boy Cheng, ostensibly for the US kid’s attraction to a young Chinese female; Cheng saying “Stay away from all of us!” So is this the dreadful simmering Chinese xenophobia which our helpful mainstream media warned us about? Sounds like some kind of unholy melding of an anti-miscegenation KKK’er with a “foreign devil” slayer from the Boxer Rebellion. And in the climax the US kid beats the bullying Chinese!! Are you feeling the ’80s jingoistic nostaligia? It’s similar to the US beating the Russian commie hockey team in the ’80s Winter Olympics, which they made a movie about! Or Rocky beating that doped-up commie robo-boxer in “Rocky 4”! But not as “good”, or at least as blatant, as the Red Dawn remake…and we know how that particular fantasy plays out: beating the Chinese invaders on the US’s home turf.
Another stereotype the film has been pointed out as having is that of the non-Asian person trained by an Asian, who in an amazingly short period of time becomes superior in skill to Asians. (see “Kill Bill”)
The reviews I’ve read have mainly missed the backwards subtexts of the film, which is why I was glad to find a “skip it” (thumbs down) review by Maryann Johanson at the “FlickFilospher” site which pokes fun at the patent overall ridiculousness and blatant U.S. chauvinism in the film. The review is titled “Enter the Draggin'” referring to the film’s punishing length, and here’s an excerpt:
“Karate! Kung fu! Whatever! says Mom. Exactly! Who cares what the Asian ass-kicking is called. Not important! The important thing is that the cute little American kid will teach the Chinese ignoramuses a thing or two about their own culture. Stupid foreigners!
No, it’s true.Â Jaden Smith is the adorable and small-for-his-age 12-year-old Dre Parker, who moves with Mom from Detroit to Beijing because, well, that’s how the floundering U.S. car companies are dealing with the collapse of their industry: transferring their employees to China. Instantly — no, really, like the minute they land — Dre is getting beat on by teenage Chinese bullies led by the horrifically one-note Cheng because Dre has the nerve to like-like violin-playing Meiying, and inappropriate likage of the female always brings out the male’s protective instinct, or something. Also: All Chinese girls play the violin…
…But don’t worry: [by the end] Chan will enunciate the moral of the movie, in case you hadn’t already been kicked in the face with it, and then Dre will parrot it back to him at a moment deemed appropriate, for those in the audience who’ve fallen into a coma — it’s something about getting back up on a horse, except it sounds more Chinesey. Eventually, Dre will make certain that Cheng and his mean-faced teacher understand that their cruel fu is contrary to Chinese wisdom and stuff. Go America!” (full review here)
People responding to criticism of Chinese cultural stereotypes in the film point to China Film Group’s role in the production, as if to say the film must be ok then. Maybe the Group just wanted to get some tourist-attracting travelogue sequences in there and weren’t worried about the other stuff since it’s just a KUNG FU DREAM…
…or is it?
Sweet & Sour Cinema has yet to see the film, but unfortunately will likely do so (as someone in the household is interested)Â which could result inÂ a realÂ review. Zuo Shou / 左手
For a cultural comparison exercise, different regions’ posters for the film:
1) US version, no Jackie Chan visible:
[Sorry, the US film poster link I used is now deleted; those interested can easily track it down]
2) “International” version: actually it’s French. Chan is there, even if his facial expression shows boredom.
3) “Kung Fu Dream” in China. [See first film poster at the top of this post.] Chan’s in this one too, but did they have to superimpose him over the Kid’s crotch?