Karate Kid has surprises. It lures you in, taking your “better than that,” cocky movie-going attitude and shoving it back in your face. You assume you know everything. You can call it that the pin pong player in the park will thoroughly destroy Dre (Jaden Smith) once the game picks up. You are sure he’ll mess up any chance of being on the basketball team.
Well Mister Attitude, you have some surprises coming. Karate Kid has an emotional pull you don’t expect, a piece of the puzzle the original was apparently missing yet no one knew it. Han (Jackie Chan) is the trainer for this remake, taking the place of Mr. Miyagi (the now deceased Pat Morita). His character is deeper, still a quiet loner, but there’s a reason for it. The remake adds depth, building not only Han, but Dre as well.
In fact, the character development adds an extra layer, making the final karate tournament arbitrary. The story feels finished even before Dre steps onto the mat to battle the villainous, bullying students of a dojo (where of course the teacher wears all black to signify his evilness). The lessons are taught before this, the tournament only serving as the application, an obvious, predictable one at that given this is a remake.
As Chan ages, his abilities are diminishing, but not his charisma or ingenuity. His character must defeat a series of grade school-aged bullies, although hitting them turns the character into a brute. The solution? Concoct a fight involving numerous pulled over jackets that cause the kids to hit themselves, and only when they show aggressiveness, teaching Dre a proper application of the skills he could learn, while humbling the bullies. It’s classic Jackie Chan.
Jaden Smith is fine too, at times eerily copying his fathers talents, the backlash against his on-screen mother (Taraji P. Henson) called forth from a number of emotional Smith performances. His physical attributes are outstanding as well, making the glorified fights plausible, exciting, and fast-paced.
Karate Kid is far too long though, although it is fair to note the original cracked the two hour barrier as well. Here, the relationship between Dre and Meiying (Wenwen Han) takes a needless turn as her father (Zhensu Wu) disapproves. Everything this little sub-plot resolves is taken care of elsewhere, and deleting it harms nothing.
That said, two hours of this stunning, jaw-dropping photography could never be a bad thing, The cinematography of Roger Pratt is breathtaking, the rolling hills and mountains shot from some incredible angles and heights. Maybe that final karate tournament could have taken place up there?
This Sony AVC encode reproduces those amazing vistas better than you could probably imagine. At the heart of it all is the color, bright and saturated while keeping flesh tones natural. Vivid yellows, bold primaries, and striking greens are just the beginning of a colorful assault on eyes, elevated to their peak without falling into over saturation. Any scene involving flowers or intensely colored clothing is a winner, and that’s the vast majority of this film.
Adding to the mesmerizing visuals are those long vistas, shots from mountain tops resolving the tiniest of details, from far away trees and other plant life to buildings that appear tiny in the distance. It’s hard to recall a modern film that makes any country look more beautiful that this, and not a single problem with the transition to digital can dilute that. Leap Year’s Blu-ray was close with its rich views of the Irish countryside, but the color here simply destroys anything that film could have offered.
For all of its wonderful views, close-ups perform on that same scale. Facial detail is remarkable, preserving every ounce of high fidelity texture without fault. Minor bouts of softness are quickly glossed over (Chan at 2:02:36 for example), seemingly not an issue with this transfer, but the source. Considering how well the light, thin grain structure is resolved, it certainly can’t be the fault of the compression which causes no distinct problems. Every character is given some staggering close-up that shows off what Blu-ray is meant to do, even the younger actors who tend to appear smooth in hi-def. It’s not always about age creating deep pores, wrinkles, and scars when an encode (and source) is this good.
Black levels are mesmerizing, rarely causing any distinct or notable crush (once as Dre is measuring himself before the move), and the contrast is calibrated brightly. Whites do tend to appear slightly hot, bleaching some limited detail in heavier lighting situations. It adds to the gloss, and is certainly the intent. There are no instances of noise or grain spikes either. This encode is nothing if not the purest example of live action eye candy around.
This is an active DTS-HD effort, one loaded with crowded city streets and markets. The ambiance generated here is effective, specific bits of chatter captured in each channel to create a convincing cityscape. The schoolyard is effective too, a plethora of children laughing and running in the soundfield. The festival at 1:05:00 continues the atmosphere with some aggressively placed fireworks upon entering, this amidst the general chatter of other guests.
A concert contains a great piano solo, each key press represented by this uncompressed track in amazing clarity and crispness. The same goes for the violin performance by Meiying, the smooth treble natural, and given a clean echo that catches in the surrounds to create a convincing theater effect.
It is of course the finale that displays the benefit of surround audio the best, the thousands of adoring fans (and parents) cheering with the best of them as the tournament continues on. The wrap-around audio is precise, specific cheers and yells placed in the rears or stereo channels to space out the audio. Through all of it, the soundtrack remains firm, and dialogue audible. The balance between the elements is excellent.
There is little bass to go around, a general thud delivered when a kid, Dre or otherwise, hits the ground. It doesn’t rock the sub so much as it provides a real, believable low-end accompaniment to get the point across. It’s likely a decision made to create fights with a little less impact since these are kids, and that’s fine.
An interactive map looks at the various Chinese locations the film was shot in, followed by a wisely deleted alternate ending. Unfortunately, that did rob audiences of a great Jackie Chan brawl involving a stool, although in terms of story is was entirely unnecessary. Thankfully we have home video so we can see it.
A series of production diaries (nine of them) are hosted by Chan with his usual energy, making them more fun than the usual promo fluff. Just for Kicks is a half-hour making of, better than expected actually with honest respect paid to the original, including clips. Some lessons on Chinese language and culture, a music video (Justin Bieber; ugh), trailers, and BD-Live/Movie IQ are left.