Monday, December 28, 2009

Excited About KARATE KID (2010)

I have always found the storyline of the first Karate Kid movie to be a little less than satisfying. Most people see a story about a kid who is moved to a new neighborhood, is harassed by bullies, and learns martial arts to confront those bullies. I don't. I see a movie about a "new kid" who lies to people about having martial arts prowess in order to be better liked, who has his lie revealed with accompanying public embarrassment, and who eventually learns martial arts and confronts those who revealed his lie.

Daniel-San's lie in the first act of the movie creates a moral dilemma which could have made for an interesting story. Many of us have been the new kid in an unfamiliar community where we have no friends. The desire to make friends provide powerful pressures that can lead us to make mistakes that we must later overcome. One of my favorite romantic comedies The Importance of Being Earnest uses lies in this very manner. It also deals with the consequences that these lies can have upon the tellers. Had the original Karate Kid dealt more with Daniel confronting his deception, and less time painting "Johnny" as a two-dimensional bully (an effect that gets shattered in the third act of the film anyway as the villain role is completely shifted to the sensei of Cobra Kai dojo), the film would have been much more satisfying.

The new version of the film, starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, seems to avoid my criticism of the original by making the story more purely about the new kid vs. bullies narrative. At least, the recently released trailer makes it seem that this is the case. I think that this is a good choice, one can always enjoy a kid faces off the bully story, but I don't think it is the best choice.

One of the things that I liked about the recent film Fighting, starring Brian White and Channing Tatum, was the lack of "villain" in the roles of the fighters in the film. Yes Fighting had villains, but they weren't the combatants. The combatants had real reasons for wanting to fight each other, reasons rooted in very human motivations. Brian White's character, Evan Hailey, has every reason to despise Channing Tatum's character. By providing a sympathetic, but not overly so, antagonist, Fighting was a little bit better than your average "fight movie." Given that the story is in many ways a remake of Jean Claude Van Damme's Lionheart, it is all the more remarkable.

The new Karate Kid changes the setting and the martial arts style of the protagonist and it looks to be interesting. That is, if I can wrap my mind around the change of "Sand the Floor" to "Take of Your Coat."


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