The Karate Kid Review

The Karate Kid was one of the breakout hits of 1984 and is widely considered to be one of the many reasons that year was such a great one for Hollywood genre films, so how do you re-invent it in an age where the genre film seems to have lost some of its sparkle? Well, if the new The Karate Kid is anything to go by you start by taking the "Kid" in the title a little too literally and the "Karate" part not nearly literal enough!

This time round Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi become Dre Parker and Mr.Han who meet in a rundown apartment block in Beijing, where Dre's single mother has recently emigrated from Detroit. Dre doesn't speak a word of Chinese and only starts to warm to his surroundings once he meets pretty local girl named Mei, but that one comfort is overshadowed when local bully-boy Cheng and his gang start a campaign of violence on the American newcomer. Things gradually get worse for Dre until he is rescued from a severe beating by Mr.Han, who then proceeds to meet up with Cheng's Wushu instructor and is inadvertently drawn into a challenge of honour: Cheng and his gang will lay off Dre if he enters an upcoming Wushu tournament and faces members from Cheng's Wushu school one-on-one. Han accepts both the challenge and Dre as his personal student, forcing the youngster to approach his new life with a new found philosophy and respect, whilst also working out some of his own personal demons.

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It doesn't take a genius to grasp what made The Karate Kid so endearing, yeah it's well constructed as a simple sports-action film with all the right stirring peaks and troughs, but beyond all that was a really great central relationship between Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi. It developed at the right pace, they had the right banter, the camaraderie was great, they opened up to each other in a very organic way, and surely enough a father-son bond was heart-warmingly formed. This new film doesn't do any of that well, it doesn't have one iota of the depth of feeling the original had, and still has to this day. Sure it goes through pretty much the same beats: Kid gets bullied, gets a girlfriend, gets bullied some more then bonds with an elderly janitor over a spot of martial arts tutoring, but every scene of drama or human interaction in this film feels shallow and clumsy. Everything feel too obvious, and if you don't pick up on the correct tone of each scene then Zalwart has made sure James Horner is at hand to club you in the face with his score - which sounds fantastic but is really condescending in its application.

Worst of all The Karate Kid runs through all the boring old stereotypes about China and its culture, it feels very much like a film that has been directed by one of those clichéd Studio Executives with HIGH IMPACT ideas: Yeah let's make this remake and it'll be the Karate Kid goes to China and he'll meet Jackie Chan and be taught Kung Fu this time round, then have lessons on The Great Wall of China and take a short train ride from Beijing to his master's hometown on WuDang mountain, and everyone there will be warrior monks who look like they've walked off the set of Hero!!!" If you can find any internal logic in any of that, or simply don't think viewers should be trying to find realism in a Karate Kid remake, then you may find this new version to be a visually arresting family film that at the very least improves on the action seen in the original, because it IS very beautiful. One thing's for sure, the Chinese Film Group made a very shrewd move by co-producing this feature!

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The performances are all fine, Taraji P. Henson is there mostly for comic relief and little else and she's kooky enough to carry that off. Jaden Smith is the spitting image of his dad and had all his light-hearted attitude so that could be a little grating to some, but when he drops the attitude he's genuinely likeable and he put in months of hard training to look the part against a pretty talented group of martial artists. Jackie Chan is probably the only reason why any adult who isn't a parent will go out of their way to watch this and he gets the mix of crestfallen sadness and measured wiseness right, he just lacks the charm Pat Morita gave Mr. Miyagi. Obviously that's down to the script, we all know that Chan is a very charming performer given the right character, and what he does bring to the role that Morita couldn't is his martial arts skills - both in front of and behind the camera.

Although The Karate Kid is padded out so much it feels like there's less action and less tournament in this remake, the action sequences are nicely choreographed by Jackie's Stunt Team and should prove easier to just sit back and admire than the more realistic, awkward Karate moves of the original. Jackie is given one fight scene and gives it all his trademark slapstick touches, but Jaden and talented young martial artist Wang Zhen Wei look good enough that you don't feel robbed by Chan's inactivity. The final tournament is pretty much a microcosm of the whole film: visually pleasing to watch but none of the dramatic power of the original, with the iconic crane kick being replaced by a rather ridiculously convoluted bit of wire work. The director looking for one of those HIGH IMPACT ideas again!

Presentation

There's really not much to say about the presentation of The Karate Kid on this Blu-ray because it's damn near flawless! Harald Zwart obviously opted to make the film as bright and vivid as possible and the transfer perfectly reflects that with a colour scheme that is simply gorgeous, the saturation is spot on and the variations in shade is very subtle. Brightness and Contrast levels may appear a little high but I think they are also bang on, with black levels and shadow detail being very strong. Zalwart appears to be obsessed with pumping smoke into his sets to get a really diffuse quality to the light, and in night-time scenes he tries to capture as much light as possible so these factors can lead to shadows looking a little light, this is not a fault of the transfer.

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A thin layer of sharp grain permeates the image and is for the most part barely noticeable, getting only thicker in a few of the darker scenes, but it's clear that there's no noise reduction at play because the image is pin-sharp and oozes fine detail without a hint of Edge Enhancement. The AVC compression is also nearly flawless, there's a tiny, tiny bit of noise in a few shots that that I think only the most sensitive of viewers will spot in motion. About the only artefact I can think of to mention is that a few flecks and particles appear on the image sporadically throughout.

The film's original dual English/Mandarin audio is presented here with a English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track that is a great match for the sterling transfer, offering a detailed, naturalistic sound field that encompasses the listener quite effectively. There may not be many hard-hitting action sequences requiring a suitably aggressive response from the audio mix, but when the call does occur the track responds accordingly with tight, punchy bass and satisfying dynamics. Mostly the film is driven by the soundtrack, which sounds detailed and vibrant here. An English Audio Descriptive 5.1 Dolby Digital track is provided for those with sight issues and that sounds pretty good as well, although the narrator does sound a little low in the mix whenever the film's soundtrack gets a little more aggressive, so that might be an issue.

There's a second lossless audio track in the form of a French 5.1 DTS HD-MA that on paper should sound better than its English counterpart, given it has a higher bitrate and 24-bit depth compared to the English's 16-bit offering. In actuality it sounds no different save for the smooth, sterile sound of dubbed dialogue and also one or two missing audio cues here and there. The final audio track is a Hindi 5.1 Dolby Digital dub that obviously sounds as clean and sterile as the French dub when it comes to dialogue, but otherwise is pretty solid and just lacks the definition or the tight bass of the lossless English audio.

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Optional subtitles are provided in English, English SDH, French, Hindi, Arabic, and Dutch. Throughout the film there is some Chinese dialogue that is meant to be subbed translated, and they are done so by non-removable English subtitles

The DVD

This is one of those "Double Play" BD + DVD family releases for children that Sony think won't have any form of Blu-ray player up in their bedroom. Sadly that retail disc has absolutely no extra features, only trailers for The Karate Kid (1984), The Smurfs (in 3-D), and Open Season 3. At least the presentation is very good, featuring pleasing levels of detail and reasonably strong colours, contrast, and brightness - although the whole look of the DVD transfer is muted compared to the Blu-ray presentation, and compression foibles are there which are avoided by the BD. Audio language options are exactly the same only everything is in DD5.1, the subtitle options are also the same: English SDH, French, Hindi, Arabic, and Dutch

Extras

There's a reasonable selection of Making Of style featurettes on the disc and more importantly the deleted Alternate Ending where we can finally seen Jackie and Yu Rong Guang go toe-to-toe, but the lack of an audio commentary is a bit of a disappointment. All extra features are presented in 1080p at

On Location: The Karate Kid Interactive Map of China (18min:59sec)
There are only three locations on the map itself: The Great Wall, WuDang Mountains, Beijing because once you go into each section you can be confronted by a wider selection of more specific locations (mostly just in the Beijing section). Basically each location listed on this map offers a menu page with a handful of factoids about the location and a featurette which comprises of behind-the-scenes footage at each location with narration by Director: Harald Zwart, which explains where each filming location is, why they shot there and how they did it.

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Alternate Ending (03m:32s)
This is easily the most important extra: An extended fight between the two Kung Fu masters at the end of the film. It's a real shame that Beijing native: Yu Rong Guang never got a chance to bust a move in the finished cut, but it's clear from this footage that had this fight been left in then the ending would have been too drawn out. This is the right forum for it and martial arts fans know how big a deal it is to see these two go at it, even if the editing doesn't make it an instant classic or anything close.

Production Diaries (29m:44s)
A selection of nine video featurettes that cover a specific aspect of the film's production, which can be played individually or all-at-once with an introduction by Jackie Chan. It's pretty much a Making Of that comes before the actual Making Of on the disc, covering such topics as Jaden Smith's training at the hands of Jackie Stunt Team member: Chen Gang Wu, a typical working day for the youngster, and filming at the various famous locations. Pretty standard stuff.

Chinese Lessons
Go here to load up an interactive menu with a relatively short list of Chinese (Mandarin) phrases spoken in the film. Select the phrase you want and it will play a short clip from the film where this phrase is spoken, afterwhich it teaches you the phrase properly.

Just for Kicks: The Making of The Karate Kid (20m:10s)
It seems a bit bizarre to place this Making Of down on the list in the Extra Features menu when it covers pretty much the same ground as the Interactive Map and Production Diaries, so if you've already waded through them there's nothing much to see here other than a slightly slicker presentation, a little bit of info on the remake's conception, and a little more footage of Jaden's parents joking around behind the scenes.

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Music Video: Justin Bieber featuring Jaden Smith "Never say Never" (03m:49s)
The song is crap, the video is annoying as it features Bieber and Smith prancing around like 30yr old RnB stars in a music studio. I'm sure kids will enjoy it!

Trailers
High quality trailers for The Karate Kid (1984), The Smurfs (in 3-D), and Open Season 3.

BD Live
This simply takes you to the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment hub, where you can view adverts and previews for other Sony releases.

movieIQ
If your player is connected to the internet then you can play the film with this online interactive database function that will flash a light bulb icon up every time there's some new information to be gleaned about the scene in question, although mostly the factoids are very brief and rather pointless. Its primary function seems to be to just list the names of the cast and crew their role. but it will also give you artist information on all of the songs on the soundtrack.

Overall

The Karate Kid may have been given a fresh contemporary Kung Fu makeover with Jackie Chan style action and absolutely gorgeous cinematography capturing some of the most beautiful locations in China, but it's little more than just an empty video postcard. It doesn't have one iota of the heart the original had. The Blu-ray disc almost follows suit in a away, offering arresting audiovisuals but a rather unadventurous selection of extras.

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Film
5 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

5

out of 10

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