Wednesday, July 7, 2010


The power has been going on and off all day, a day when temperatures were over 100 degrees and the heat index made it feel even hotter.

I found ways to cool off, including the gym, and then this evening my twelve-year-old decided we should go see the new remake of THE KARATE KID—in China it's known as THE KUNG FU KID which makes more sense.

I went because he wanted to, but had little interest, even though I knew Jackie Chan was in it and who can resist Jackie Chan? Most reviews I'd read were critical. But after seeing it I wonder how those critics' hearts work.

I found it engaging and thoroughly entertaining, but also moving. Of course it's a formulaic plot, most are, and it's a remake which many critics say is not as good as the original. I think it's easily as good and probably better, or at least more universal.

And it's kind of cool to be present at the dawn of a dynasty, because as much as Jaden Smith looks and even acts like his famous father Will, he definitely more than holds his own in this flick. A star is definitely born here.

As much as I would have loved to not have liked him or this movie and seen it as nepotism and privilege and elitism at work etc. Jaden won me over pretty quickly and by the end I was a fan. And the complaints that Jackie Chan doesn't have enough action scenes are silly. It's not a Jackie Chan movie.

I noticed Jaden got top billing over Chan in the opening credits, which initially got my back up, but again, I was won over not just by Jaden's cinematic appeal but by his achievement. He obviously worked almost as hard or maybe more so than the character he plays has to in the movie. And Chan brings so much to the character of the disenchanted disillusioned brokenhearted teacher—or "master—it elevated that cliched role to unforgettable.

I left the theater more than satisfied, I left it happy, even despite the overwhelming heat that hit us when we exited back into the night air, arriving home just in time for the power to go out totally. No more on and off, just off.

But it's a few hours later, past midnight, and the power just came back on and we got to spend some quality time with our new upstairs neighbors getting to now each other while sitting on the front steps because it was too hot in our apartments. Just like neighbors on my street when I was growing up would spend the night on steps and stoops during a heat wave because back then we didn't have air conditioners and we all suffered together. As a kid I found it exciting and festive, everyone seeming more friendly and more candid in the dark of the middle of the night.

But, I'm grateful the one little air conditioner we have is on again and the fan blowing the cool air from my little guy's room down the hall in the direction of mine is spinning again and , knock on wood, hopefully they will continue to through the night.


Miles said...


I like the image of hanging on the stoop in the summer night. Brings back memories.

I didn't like the flick as much as you did, but I went expecting to like it, based on the preview I saw. My main complaint is that it seemed tediously long, overstuffed with the wrong element: mainly bratty "I hate it here in China" attitude. I also wanted more of Chan.

I felt the original balanced the essential qualities of the main character better. Ralph Machio (sp?) was vulnerable yet not annoyingly helpless. Jaden is still just a little too small and cute to pull off the Kung Fu transformation (for me). Don't get me wrong, Jaden is obviously enormously talented, but a movie based on his dancing skill (which his Kung Fu was clearly influenced by) would have been a better vehicle for his inherent talent.

And, as usual, being a grad student has ruined yet another cross cultural movie (a la our conversations regarding the "white savior" aspect of Avatar, and The Last of the Mohicans). I was totally disappointed by the complete avoidance of any discussion of race. Furthermore, the strong mother was superficial at best. Seems to me like the movie missed a couple opportunities to present, in a fresh way, issues regarding parenting, mothering, and race.

I guess I may have had my sights set too high.

Caitlin Hotaling said...

Hmmm.... I went w/my little one and expected to hate it, due to the love I have for the original, and Ralph. Loved it! Almost cried, or did, too long ago to remember now. Thought everyone did a great job and enjoyed the freshness of the remake. I hear ya Miles, but didn't give that as much thought. I think the way the romance unfolded did that nicely for the age of kids seeing it.

What I keep wondering, having seen Toy Story 3 after this one is WTF??? Toy Story is rated G, my kid wanted to leave crying and it was traumatizing to adults I know who've seen it. Karate Kid, PG. Why? There is fighting in the Karate Kid, duh. There is torture in Toy Story 3. There is evil scary "toys" in one and mean bullies in the other. Is it because one is animated so therefore not real? Sheesh, it makes me nauseous, the rating system and what constitutes a G movie today. Sad commentary on todays society in terms of what is acceptable for kids. Sigh.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

Yes, when the FCC deems a bare breast or a cuss word "indecent" but sanctions 24/7 gun and other murderous violence, even on Saturday morning kiddie cartoons, and even on Star Trek, etc., hundreds of years in the future when one would hope that humanity would have evolved beyond needing to shoot each other over exploring other, non violent means of conflict resolution. Where is Social Responsibility in our system? The inmates are truly running the asylum, and hypocrisy rules the day - the real war/battle/struggle/challenge is in consciousness and character.

Miles said...


I forgot about the romance in The Karate Kid. You're right about how that aspect of the movie revealed some insight into both American and Chinese culture. But for me, even that fell a little short. The assumptions we make in our individualist culture (pursue your individual desire, dream, etc) are not shared as universally in collectivist cultures like China. The girl doing what her family wanted would be the natural choice for someone raised in a collectivist culture (it wouldn't be a particularly hard choice). Again, I thought that aspect of the film was nicely handled, I just wanted more to be said. For example, it would have been easy to make some kind of comparison between individualist and collectivist cultures using "team work" as an analogy.

I also agree with both you and Robert regarding the rating system. What the heck? To exaggerate it further: murder is ok, but making babies isn't.

Lally said...

I hear ya Miles, (and Cait and Robert about the ridiculous ratings system which has always frustrated me), and actually I thought about the cultural aspects of the flick and felt that given everything it was trying to introduce, and obviously to a global audience, it did it gingerly, as they say, not taking on the big issues but skirting around the edges and presenting some of them because after all this is a film set in China! How many big Hollywood movies are set in China with mostly Chinese actors etc.? How 'bout none! (At least in my post-brain-op memory). So just mixing the cultures by introducing an "American" kid, and a pretty typical one, with the added distinction of being "African-American" and fatherless, is upping the ante to where a lot of the viewing audience is going to tune out if it's all about that. So it's subtly about that. I thought there were definite elements of African-American cultural distinctions even if some seemed cliched, and since your little brother and I watched it in a theater with a predominantly African-American audience, including several boys around Jaden and your brother's age there with just their mothers (sitting next to us in fact so we got to experience their reactions very clearly)... anyway, my point is they reacted with a lot of vociferous identification with the characters, which I'm sure was an element Jaden's mom and dad, who I noticed were credited as producers, intended. So here's this mostly African-American audience totally into the flick while being exposed to new forms of cultural fears and prejudices and questions etc., almost like introduction to global culture 101, through a medium easily grasped (I actually thought halfway through the film that that might be Will Smith's intention after all his global exposure and proven ability to transcend almost any cultural barriers with his popularity, much of it based on his incredible and incredibly intelligent perceptiveness about how to literally be disarming, etc. Sorry I got so carried away. And you may be right about the artistic and basic social failures of the film but when I put it in the context of the larger global challenges it addressed even if indirectly, I thought it did a great job, it made my eyes tear up in a few places, but than I'm a sentimental old guy who tears up, as you all know, over commercials these days.

Lally said...

PS: The tears in my eyes were provoked by Chan. He's such an amazing actor and performer, I'd love to see him do a strictly straight dramatic role without any of the martial arts stuff he's so rightfully famous for, though he's obviously one of the movies' greatest comic actors as well.

Jamie Rose said...

This is such a beautiful piece of writing Lals. I love the end about the hanging on the stoop with your neighbors.


Miles said...


I agree that just having the film set in China is a big milestone. I prefaced some of my disappointment in the film with the explanation that grad school ideas have spoiled some of the fun of simple pop culture stuff. So, although this movie moves in an exciting direction (by its setting alone), I had much higher (probably too high) hopes for what it might say about humanity. I know, I expect a lot.

I totally agree about Chan. I really liked the scene where he and Jaden train using the sticks connecting their hands.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

"a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down..."

Anonymous said...

Issues of Race were glaring throughout this movie. There was the obvious avoidance of creating a white-black conflict. There was the Smiths' desire not to paint black inner city kids as bullys or gangsters, which I found most amusing. So we move to China, where the bully can be an alien in appearance and culture. It was a wonderful compromise that I thought worked very well.

The other reason I enjoyed the choice of China was the relationship with the non-black female. This implies that blacks need to meld with other races to gain the higher principles of that race as compared to the Ghetto culture that pervades the USA, Africa and the West Indies.

The Smiths both have this melding as do many of the more successful blacks of modern times. (Halle Berry, Barak Obama as just two examples.)

I see this as a very good thing because it illustrates what the USA was designed to be in the Declaration of Independence.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

We gotta get one thing clear once and for all. Back in 2003 I was in Philadelphia working on a job. It was a sunny day and a man with darker skin than mine was riding his bicycle. He stopped and we talked. Among other things he said: "I'm not black, I'm brown! And you're not white, you're pink!" I smiled and said, "I'll bet you'd never know by looking at me that I'm Asian!" "Really?" he said. "Yes, I'm caulk-asian!" It's just a frikin' word. Before I'm any color, religion, sexual or political leaning, I'm a human being. And before I'm a human being, I'm a living creature." The same holds true for all of this forum's participants, includng Jim and Anonymous, whether we like it or not!!!

Lally said...

Amen Robert. I wrote a story back in the 1960s about how when I looked around at a car full of people that outsiders would say I was the only "white" in, what I saw were shades from dark coffee to pink snd everything in between, making the terms "white" and "black" not only irrelevant but inaccurate.