Karate Kid, The (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the recent remake of the classic eighties feature on Blu-ray
When his mother decides to move to China to further her career, twelve-year-old Dre Parker's (Jaden Smith) life is turned upside-down. Finding himself isolated in a strange land Dre's situation goes from bad to worse when he falls foul of a group of bullies who just happen to be martial arts experts. When it looks like life can't possibly get any worse Dre turns but to his apartment building's maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who is secretly a master of kung fu. Although initially reluctant, Han eventually agrees to instruct Dre in the ways of martial arts, but the more time he spends with the boy the more he realises that the youngster has much to teach him in return.
I caught this reimaging of the eighties favourite during its theatrical run and came away with a better impression than I expected given that the trailers looked horrific. I was looking forward to seeing the film on Blu-ray to see if that generally positive impression remained, but unfortunately it served to highlight some of the negative views I had during my first run-through. For one thing I’m still not keen on the picture being set in China. Sure it takes the whole ‘fish out of water’ thing one stage further than the original, but I felt that it made it harder to relate to the situation Dre found himself in. Speaking of Dre, while he handles the action scenes very well, Smith Jnr. doesn’t quite have his father’s acting chops. To tell you the truth he’s a little bit on the wooden side, as are most of the child actors come to that. While I realise that the film is aimed more at children and family audiences than older people, even if I was nine all over again I just don’t think I’d aspire to be Dre in the same way that I wanted to be Daniel Larusso. Unlike Daniel and Ali Mills’ relationship in the original I found the childhood romance between Dre and Meiying more awkward than anything else. While Jackie Chan’s Mr. Han is a generally enjoyable character (even if his English is a bit shaky) he’s just lacking that special something that made the original’s Mr. Miyagi so memorable.
The action sequences also suffer from being over-choreographed, often sharing more in common with Crouching Tiger than any martial arts feature grounded in reality. That’s not to say they’re unimpressive—far from it—but there are times where the characters pull off moves that just aren’t believable, which is in stark contrast to the less showy, but ultimately more plausible martial arts depicted in the original. There are other niggly bits as well, such as Dre’s annoyingly stereotypical mother (it’s never really explained what qualifies her to work in China, given that she doesn’t speak Mandarin), the lack of character development for Cheng and the introduction of ‘chi’ into what should be a grounded martial arts flick. ‘Pick up your jacket, take it down’ is no ‘wax on, wax off’ either, and don’t get me started on Dre’s last kung fu move... Still, it’s certainly not the worse remake I’ve seen this year, not even close. Kids and less miserable oldies should be more forgiving of some of the weaker elements and instead enjoy it for its impressive action and good humour.
Sony’s customary excellence in dealing with a recent feature is in full effect here. The 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC) widescreen transfer is nicely detailed with strong, natural colour rendition throughout. I was especially impressed by the bright primaries, which really pop, and flesh tones are also pleasingly accurate. Contrast and brightness are also good, with no overblown highlights and some satisfyingly deep black levels. There’s a fine layer of natural film grain that is never distracting and I didn’t spot any overt digital nastiness to compromise what is a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Sony really is near the top of the pile when it comes to providing consistently impressive visual transfers.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack isn’t particularly flashy, but it gets the job done in fine style. Atmospheric effects are in almost constant attendance, but they’re generally quite low-key for the most part. This state of affairs changes as the film progresses, with fireworks, crowd noise and other effects making their presence known, but even so the track never really gets terribly lively (but then it’s not an all-out action film). Dialogue is well-balanced in the mix—never becoming lost amongst the other elements—but bass is pretty tame, even during the combat scenes. Perhaps the strongest presence is James Horner’s score, which is generally very well-suited to the on-screen action and generates a lot of emotion. All-in-all it’s a very good effort, but for me it doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by the video transfer.
On Location: The Karate Kid Interactive Map of China: This interactive map is narrated by director Harold Zwart and includes plenty of information about the various locations featured in the film. Main focuses include the Wudang Mountains, the Great Wall of China and Beijing, with each segment broken into smaller pieces with accompanying text and video. This is a pretty interesting look at the production from a different perspective than the usual ‘making of’ piece.
Alternate Ending (03:32 HD): I’m sure Jackie fans will be over the moon with the inclusion of this alternate ending in which he finally gets to stick it to the evil rival instructor, but I’m glad it was left out of the completed film. For one thing it would have completely overshadowed Dre’s preceding fight and revenge should not be in Mr. Miya… sorry, Han’s, nature.
Production Diaries (29:44 HD): There are nine production diaries in total, which can either be viewed individually or via a ‘play all’ option with an introduction by Jackie Chan. The diaries cover such topics as training Jaden, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and a day in the life of Taraji P. Henson among other things, offering some valuable companion pieces to the ‘Interactive Map’.
Chinese Lessons: If you want to learn a few basic Chinese word and phrases this is the place to come. I suck at languages (well foreign ones at least), so I found this more frustrating than anything else. Still, it’s nice to see some educational content on the disc.
Just for Kicks; The Making of The Karate Kid (16:03 HD): This is your more traditional ‘making of’ featurette that covers the genesis of the project (basically, Will Smith wanted his son to be in The Karate Kid) and the screenwriting process, before moving on to training, shooting and scoring. If you’ve ever seen a making of feature before you’ll know what to expect.
Music Video: Justin Bieber Featuring Jaden Smith ‘Never Say Never’ (03:49 HD): Oh Lord, please help me. This really isn’t my sort of thing, but if you can stomach that little Canadian Hillary Swank lookalike, good for you. Hey, Hillary Swank—there’s a Karate Kid connection for you.
Trailers: Next up we have trailers for the original Karate Kid, The Smurfs (in 3D) and Open Season 3.
BD-Live: The usual BD-Live link is included, but there’s no film-specific content beyond the trailer.
PS3 Wallpaper Theme: Oh I almost forgot, the disc includes a wallpaper theme for your PS3 should you so desire to customise your machine.
DVD Copy: As this is a 'Double Play' release we also get a separate DVD version of the film for use elsewhere in the home.
One of the most telling things about this version of The Karate Kid was the fact that my wife didn’t get emotionally involved, even during Jackie’s big speech about his family. She normally cries at the drop of a hat, but she actually used the word ‘hate’ when describing her feelings towards the film while also telling me she never wants to watch it again. My own feelings aren’t that negative, but it still lacked a certain something for me. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it didn’t grab me on my second viewing. Having seen the original version fairly recently I’m under no illusions about that particular feature’s shortcomings, but on balance I still think it’s the more enjoyable of the two given that it’s more believable and I related to the characters more.
Anyway, enough about the film; if you’re already a fan nothing I say is going to change your mind. What is of greater importance is the quality of the presentation and I’m pleased to report that it won’t disappoint, particularly in the video department. Although initially appearing a little lightweight, the extras are actually pretty decent considering the movie is aimed predominantly at kids. In light of the above I have no reservations about recommending this title to anyone who enjoyed the movie, but if you’re a fan of the original and/or a little more advanced in years you might find that it doesn’t resonate quite as much as you might like.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 15th November 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Hindi, Audio Descriptive 5.1 English
Subtitles: Arabic, Dutch, English, English HoH, French, Hindi
Extras: On Location: The Karate Kid Interactive Map of China, Alternative Ending, Production Diaries Hosted by Jackie Chan, Chinese Lessons, Music Video: Justin Bieber Featuring Jaden Smith "Never Say Never", Just for Kicks: The Making of The Karate Kid, BD-Live, PS3 Wallpaper Theme
Easter Egg: No
Director: Harald Zwart
Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Han Wenwen, Wang Zhenwei
Genre: Action and Family
Length: 140 minutes
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