Sunday, June 13, 2010

"It's not Karate..."

One of my movie faves for 2010 has to be the "The Karate Kid". It's a remake of an old movie, similar in premise and formula, but done with less tongue-in-cheek and more thoughtfulness. The whole movie considers cross-cultural relations, how embracing difference and change is a real advantage, and how territorialism has no place in these times when borders and ideas are shared so easily around the world.

The conflict, and often the humour of this production are in the interactions of the diverse characters struggling for their place in a place that no longer has a historical precedent to fall back on. Beijing has become home to Dre Parker, a black American boy who; backed into a corner has to learn Chinese kung fu; his new friend, Mei Ying is Chinese but is training to play Eruopean classical music; while Cheng holds fast to his national pride and chooses to exclude the new foreigner in the neighbourhood.

With Jackie Chan at the helm, the fight sequences are intense, the choreography a joy to watch. There is a flow and a consistency to each punch, each kick, though the pace never lets up. But through Dre's training we see that though martial prowess may be the medium of instruction, what he is really learning is respect, humility and harmony that helps him fit into his new environment. Ultimately, the fights are not about winning or losing but learning to respect one another in the spirit of competition.

Yes, we've all seen this formula before, but somehow this movie treats the formula with an almost absolute belief in it. It's in the contrast between scrapping on the mean city streets and in the philosophical teachings set against the serenity of a Chinese temple on  mountaintop, or along the monumental historical Great Wall -- reminding us that our history is still tremendously important to us and modern life is still tightly intertwined with it.

A lot of credit goes to Jaden Smith for the respect he gives to his role, and for rising to the challenge in creating a character which we can feel for and readily lend our support to. When the whole stadium choruses "jiayou" in support of the injured foreigner against his brutal adversary, that's interesting because the audience is rooting for human values over blind nationalism.

Nice. But I wonder, why do the Americans think they can pick up a skill (even a philosophy) in a matter of weeks, when others have to train a lifetime to reach the same level? I suppose that's just the magic of the movies.

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