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Dorian's Movie Reviews & Critiques

Is it worth seeing? Reviews are presented with no cynicism, no comparisons, no biased standards, no pretentiousness - every movie is reviewed on its individual entertainment value including technical presentation.

Note that a critique for writers follows the review.

Copyright © 2010 Dorian Scott Cole

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Scale 1 - 10

The Karate Kid
2010, Columbia Pictures
Directed by Harald Zwart
Written by Christopher Murphey
Story by Robert Mark Kamen
MPAA Rating: - PG (Bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language) -

A young man, Dre Parker (Jadem Smith), and his mother are transferred from Detroit to Beijing, China. Immediately Dre meets a girl he likes, Mei Ying (Wenwen Han), and is encountered by a bully, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), a martial arts student, who doesn't want him around the girl or anyone else. Immediately Dre hates his new home.

Dre soon meets the apartment building maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who is a Kung Fu master. Han feels sorry for Dre and agrees to teach him Kung Fu. Han accompanies Dre to the Kung Fu gymn where Cheng is in training. The master there insists on cruelty - no mercy. Rather than fight, they agree to a match in the coming Kung Fu tourney.

Soon Dre is going through the tedium of training, but it is at an advanced pace and advanced level.

The plot is classic good against bad, weak protagonist against strong antagonist, discover the character and capabilities within yourself. It's a timeless plot that never fails to entertain.

The characters in this movie are compelling and gripping. Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), does an excellent portrayal of a bully. We can see him happily wanting to destroy Dre. We see remorse for his actions, and respect for Dre, at the end. Excellent performance. Dre (Jaden Smith), grabs us immediately with his plight, both by the unwelcome move, his loneliness, and being bullied. We immediately want to see him succeed with a friend Mei Ying (Wenwen Han), who sparkles in this role, and learn Kung Fu and overcome the bully. Jackie Chan, playing Mr. Han, excels in this dramatic role, which marginally uses his martial arts skills (he makes everything look easy).

Cinematography - excellent scenes in China. This movies is worth seeing for the cinematography alone.

Grab some popcorn. Enjoy! Karate Kid 2 is in production for 2013.

The Karate Kid Web site.

Engaging: Very.
Boring: No way.
Confusing: No.
Characters: Gripping and compelling performances
Entertaining: Yes - beginning to end
Plot: Very good balance between theme, plot, and character.
Uniqueness and originality: Fair to Good - this remake added a lot of differences
Surprises: Relatively predictable
Recommend this movie to others: Highly

Emotional reaction to the movie (the following are from a work in progress):

  • Film Mood: adventurous, energetic.
  • Film ethos* (feelings left with): uplifted, story moral, appropriately romantic, sympathetic, warm hearted, skillful.
  • Film Energy: courageous, engaging, determined.
  • Film Outlook: optimistic
* Ethos: The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.
- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.

Technical and critique

My comments below attempt to draw attention to technical things that make a movie good, especially if they made major contributions. For professional judgments on these various arts, the reader should consult professionals in these arts, and realize that these notes are not necessarily part of the overall rating for entertainment value.

  • Writing - good characterization; somewhat visually presented. Seven spotlights.
  • Acting - Excellent performances. Nine spotlights.
  • Casting - Well chosen. Nine spotlights.
  • Directing - the scenes flowed well; the story was cohesive; the drama was told somewhat visually; and good overall production. Nine spotlights.
  • Lighting - Excellent use of lighting in light and dark scenes, inside and outside. Ten spotlights.
  • Production design - Excellent sets that worked well with the story and were cinematically exciting. Ten spotlights.
  • Special effects -
  • Editing - the action flowed smoothly, captured good action and character reactions, and put together a very coherent story. Ten spotlights.
  • Music - seamless, and complimented the action. Did not call attention to itself. Nine spotlights.
  • Costume design - Individualized and appropriate. Nine spotlights.
  • Choreography of the set with the character actions - Excellent. Ten spotlights.
  • Cinematography - well executed and told the story visually as much as written. Ten spotlights.

Story critique: what worked well, what didn't, and why?

While the story stands on its own, it is a remake of a classic movie that most people have seen. We know the story, so a remake that follows the same story line is rather predictable. But in this instance it isn't such a bad thing. The original series in the 1980s had three movies, and they were all basically the same plot. We loved it then, and love it now.

There were loose ends from a not so well developed plot. Dre immediately makes a friendship with another guy, this leads to some expectations, but the friendship goes nowhere. Not good - should have just been removed. The complication of Mei Ying's parents forbidding her to see Dre was too easily resolved. There was no point to it, so it dragged down the dramatic action - this could have simply been removed. (It could be said that Dre learned respect, but it wasn't strongly positioned that way.) We had this dramatic buildup of the romance, and it just went flop. This complication was a subplot that didn't really help resolve the plot, as in Mei Ying showing up at the last moment to cheer Dre on so that he won the fight. If these were resolved, I would have bumped the rating up to a 9. Unfortunately I'm seeing a lot of this in movies.

Much has been said about this being a Kung Fu movie instead of Karate. Both are forms of martial arts, but it bothers the purists. In the original screenplay, the original writer, Christopher Murphey, positioned this as a Kung Fu against Karate movie. That probably would have garnered even more controversy, and not the healthy kind that draws an audience. As it was, Kung Fu had no negative affect on the plot. In fact, it was great to see the unique Kung Fu moves.

From the writing point of view, this movie is a good example of what can easily be changed in a storyline and still have the same basic movie with the same plot and characters. Unlike the original Karate Kid movies set in the US and Okinawa, this one is set in China. Rather than use Karate, it uses Kung Fu. Mr. Han's background, instead of having lost his wife as in the original, in this one he had been carelessly responsible for the death of his wife and 12 year old son. The Kung Fu practice grounds, instead of a dojo and beach settings, were on the Great Wall in China, and other great locations.

The simplicity of the story line, and that it is good VS evil, makes this a high concept story, which usually sells very well.

I didn't see any technical or story flaws in this movie.

Largely this movie was told through dialogue. If you turned off the screen, you still would have caught most of it, so a lot of the story was not told visually. We do see some great examples of telling the story visually, and some areas that needed improved. We see a great example with the snake charmer, but we don't see that "Everything is Kung Fu," except as an overall moral, which we already naturally get. We do see the opposing team honor Dre through Cheng bringing him the trophy. This is an excellent example of using the set as a third character (trophy), and telling the story visually. We see the team respecting Mr. Han with a Kung Fu bow. We see the opposing team dishonored by the audience for trying to break Dre's leg. Of course, the fight and tournament scenes told the story very visually, and were very well done.

While the setting was excellent, the character interaction with the set was mostly limited to just setting. There was limited use of the set as a "third character." For example, in most Jackie Chan movies, he uses the items that would normally be in a setting as part of his tools to create the action. Three times in this movie I noticed the set being used as a character. The first was when Dre and Mei Ying kissed behind the scenes and their kissing profile was cast onto the play screen with everyone watching, causing confusion and consternation by Dre's mother and Mr. Han. The second time was when Han destroyed the car he had been rebuilding. The third time was when Chen took the trophy to Dre. Using the set as a character (communicates something) makes it much more visual. The set as character in these three instances communicated romance, remorse, and respect.

It was great to see Jackie Chan excell in a dramatic role, which he has always been capable of, and not just doing martial arts stunts in Western movies, as his usual likeable self. The transformation to an older, stoic, even tragic figure was done well both in costume and appearance, and in character presentation.

Overall the writing dropped well below the superior mark that I like to see in stories. It was good, but not excellent or superior. It needed a couple of weeks more work.

- Dorian

  • 10 Spotlights: The best of movie making, well worth seeing (rarely given)
  • 8 Spotlights: Good movie for the genre; may have minor technical or story problems but they hardly harm the enjoyment; clearly worth seeing; (most movies)
  • 6 Spotlights: Not bad, but has deficiencies - worth seeing
  • 4 Spotlights: Caution - a "B" movie, probably will appeal only to some
  • 1 Spotlight: Caution - not recommended for any audience (will probably never be given)

My reviews are not based much on my personal taste, or any standard besides entertainment value. I try to be as objective as possible, keeping in mind that entertainment value is very subjective and individualized. If I'm not interested in a movie I usually don't go see it, so it doesn't get reviewed. Each character, and each position in the production company might be highlighted if the contribution affected the enjoyment of the story as either outstanding or dismal and I noticed it, keeping in mind that many contributions are singularly distinguished by their seamless integration with the story, not calling attention to themselves and thereby escaping attention.

- Dorian Scott Cole

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