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The Karate Kid(2010)
12-year-old Dre Parker could've been the most popular kid in Detroit, but his mother's latest career move has landed him in China. Dre immediately falls for his classmate Mei Ying - and the feeling is mutual - but cultural differences make such a friendship impossible. Even worse, Dre's feelings make an enemy of the class bully, Cheng. In the land of kung fu, Dre knows only a little karate, and Cheng puts "the karate kid" on the floor with ease. With no friends in a strange land, Dre has nowhere to turn but maintenance man Mr. Han, who is secretly a master of kung fu. As Han teaches Dre that kung fu is not about punches and parries, but maturity and calm, Dre realizes that facing down the bullies will be the fight of his life.
For more about The Karate Kid and the The Karate Kid Blu-ray release, see the The Karate Kid Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 21, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han, Rongguang Yu, Zhensu Wu
Director: Harald Zwart
» See full cast & crew
The Karate Kid Blu-ray Review
Perhaps the best transfer around.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 21, 2013
Life will knock us down, but we can choose whether or not to get back up.
A remake of The Karate Kid had to be good, had to work, had to be something special. It's one thing to remake an obscure older title like The Stepfather and have the result be a complete dud, but it's another thing altogether when studios and filmmakers choose to revisit sacred ground, updating a movie that didn't really need a second look to begin with. 1984's The Karate Kid is a picture with universal appeal and strong messages on the importance of self-reliance, discipline, integrity, honor, perseverance, and the bonds of friendship, all weaved into a wonderfully-told story and supported by some top-notch acting, including an out-of-nowhere Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the late Pat Morita. Enter 2010's remake, a picture directed by the same guy behind the abysmal The Pink Panther 2. No Pat Morita, no Daniel-san, no Cobra Kai, the movie takes place in China instead of the United States, and Jackie Chan's take on Mr. Miyagi is Chinese rather than Okinawan. For fans of the original, it seemed like another eyeball-rolling lame-o attempt to cash in on an updated Hip-Hop version of a beloved classic. But wait. Though it may have new faces in new places, 2010's The Karate Kid is still, well, The Karate Kid; it's an almost straight remake from start to finish with, yes, some added pizzazz but also built around the same core as the original, a core that defined 1984's picture well beyond the look of the characters or the backdrop against which the action played out. Director Harald Zwart's remake proves that it's a story and the essence behind it -- not just what plays out for the camera -- that makes a movie great and why this updating of The Karate Kid is still home to one of the best stories around.
After the death of his father, the young street-smart Dre Parker (Jaden Smith, The Day the Earth Stood Still) and his mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson, Hustle & Flow) pack their bags and move to China in search of a new life. Dre's not as enthused as his mother. He misses home; feels alone in a culture that's alien to him; and to make matters worse, quickly finds himself at odds with the school bullies. They're none-too-pleased that Dre's taken a liking to the young violin playing Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han), and lead bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) lets Dre know it by means of a severe beating. An undeterred Dre continues to form a relationship with Mei Ying, and when he gets the best of Cheng and his gang one afternoon, they track him down and beat him severely -- until a local maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan, The Forbidden Kingdom), intervenes. Mr. Han and Dre quickly form a bond, and when Dre convinces his new friend to witness the bastardization of Kung Fu being taught by Master Li (Yu Rongguang) -- Cheng's instructor -- Han takes Dre under his wing and teaches him the finer points of martial arts so the boy may adequately defend himself, restore his honor, and get the bullies off his back by competing in a local Kung Fu tournament. Can Dre learn not only the moves he needs to beat the bully but also the life skills he needs to save, reshape, and define the entirety of his existence both now and in the years ahead?
With stories that are almost mirror images of one another and differentiated only by several obviously superficial differences that are easy to spot, about the only thing that separates the original The Karate Kid from the remake is pure nostalgia. 1984's picture has earned its place in the annals of cinema as a bona-fide classic that speaks to the very hearts of young men and women who, through the picture, learn the importance of personal honor, sacrifice, responsibility, commitment, and friendship. The remake captures those very same ideals through a story that only differs from its predecessor at the most rudimentary of levels. The fact that both pictures are nothing less than rousing successes of the triumph of the human spirit speaks volumes as to what truly makes a movie great. Strong acting, pinpoint editing, gorgeous cinematography, steady direction, and award-caliber acting are no doubt all integral elements to any quality movie, but both versions of The Karate Kid prove that it's what's below surface -- those elements that get to the very heart of a story and truly define it well beyond its basic on-screen attributes and general veneer -- that elevates a picture to heights well beyond where mere spit-and-polish can take it. That's not to dismiss the remake's exceptionally strong performances, honest direction, gorgeous visuals, and quality score, but analyzing and comparing the two pictures inevitably yields the conclusion that it is indeed the intangibles rather than the cosmetics that separate the merely good movies from the great ones, and both takes on The Karate Kid are nothing less than great.
Considering, then, that the remake does nothing new with the material, the question that begs answering is, "why bother?" The obvious -- and invariably correct -- answer is business, but there's more to love about The Karate Kid's remake that doesn't show up on Sony's year-end profit sheet. If nothing else, introducing a new generation of moviegoers to the ideals heretofore listed seems worth the picture's weight in gold. Few movies can champion honest and traditional values and inspire viewers to achieve greater heights better than 1984's The Karate Kid, and that the remake retains that same foundational core drives it to great success and alone makes the picture a worthwhile endeavor. The Karate Kid also serves as a showcase for the talents and a springboard for the career of young Jaden Smith. After impressing to no end in The Pursuit of Happyness, Smith demonstrates a level of excellence in The Karate Kid that shows him to be a highly capable actor in his own right and, here, out of his father's towering shadow. Jaden Smith shows so much personal character in the The Karate Kid -- he understands the story, the emotions behind it, and the lessons it espouses -- to a level that would put more veteran actors to shame. His ability to emote across the entire range the picture demands -- he pulls off a character that's both serious and fun, capturing all the anger; fear; sadness; and eventually, self-confidence that all define the character and make him both believable and sympathetic -- seems second-to-none for an actor of his age. If Smith's performance here and in Happyness are indications of what fans can expect of him in the future, then it's not a stretch to say he's already equalled his father in terms of raw talent.
Though its story takes center stage, The Karate Kid remake is fortunately still home to quality filmmaking. Director Harald Zwart purposefully opens the film with an emotionally-draining revelation that sets the tone for the rest of the movie and immediately informs audiences that there's more to his take on The Karate Kid than the trailers and vocally-upset fans of the original might have otherwise suggested. A makeshift growth chart penciled in on the wall reveals Dre's height at the moment he lost his first tooth, hit his first homerun, and lost his father to an untimely death. A minute into the movie and it's managed an emotional impact that puts most other pictures to shame, and that underscored suggestion that Dre's life has been shattered not only by his father's death but by the move to what seems like another world entirely only solidifies the bond he's ultimately to form with Mr. Han. From there on out The Karate Kid only plays with an honest tone that's respectful to the story and the original picture, this remake not attempting to necessarily one-up the first but instead retell its story with new people and in a new place but remaining ever-mindful of what it is that's most important to making sure it succeeds. In that way, The Karate Kid remake manages to form its own identity through both the personality of its actors and the exotic setting that serves as the backdrop for the action while still building on that deeper and far more structurally significant foundation. While longtime fans of the original will instantly recognize the paralleles shared between most any scene in the new one to some element in the old, those similarities in story, structure, and plot specifics never play as burdens but rather as reinforcements of what made the original so great and, by extension, they solidify the importance of the ideas, themes, and concepts that define both films. It's the small touches and the larger, more generalized similarities alike that only fortify the notion that the story of The Karate Kid is a timeless and necessary one and that proves that, in cinema, meaning far more often than not supersedes appearances. This update does the original's most important elements proud.
While Mr. Han's jacket routine won't ever replace "sand the floor" or "wax on, wax off," this updating nevertheless takes full advantage of the original's insistence on displaying untraditional training techniques as a means of proving that fighting isn't necessarily just about takedowns, punches, and kicks, but instead an extension of the body and mind. These techniques demonstrate both mental and physical discipline that trains the body without pounding in the notion that's it's all about violence and nothing but violence, as demonstrated by the Cobra Kai in the previous picture and Master Li's teachings in the remake. Behind the training in 2010's version is not Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi but Jackie Chan's Mr. Han; no doubt of all the changes, Chan's portrayal of the de facto Miyagi character was the biggest question mark, and Chan pulls of the part with flying colors. He takes on a haggard and aged appearance and speaks with broken English and in a cadence that's suggestive of Miyagi, but most importantly, Chan channels Morita's performance in the way he carries the character as someone who forms a bond not just at the student-master level but also at a much deeper and far more personal one that adds the necessary weight and emotion to the coupling and reinforces the teachings that promote the martial arts as a defensive rather than offensive art and, more importantly, as a tool meant to condition not just the body but the mind, heart, and soul. Chan is nothing short of brilliant in the part, and while he probably won't find the same level of success Morita enjoyed in both the critical spotlight and in popular culture, he can proudly boast of his performance for all the right reasons.
What's more, The Karate Kid features some stunning fight choreography and action visuals that may very well better anything seen in the previous movie. There's no feeling that the actors held anything back in the brutal attacks and hard hits seen through the movie; it's all thoroughly convincing, whether playground brawls, Mr. Han's rescue of Dre in which he uses the attackers one against another, or in the tournament that's seen at film's end. The visual realism of the fights only add to the intensity and further help make Dre a necessarily sympathetic character and his attackers all the more menacing both outside the tournament and in it. With that in mind, if there's an area where the original proves vastly superior to the remake, it's in the way it makes caricatures of its bad guys and therefore allows them to stand out as larger-than-life villains with no morals, no care, and no mercy to their names or actions. The villains of 2010's The Karate Kid never quite reach the same level of scary, imposing, and creepy, but that's OK; they're but a means to an end to advance the story and form a support structure on top of which its many lessons may be built. The picture is also supported by a wonderful score courtesy of one of the true greats working today, James Horner (Glory). Horner's score combines Far East elements with a bigger, rousing feel, all the while very subtly hinting back at some of the elements heard in the original's music. It fits in terrifically with both the movie and the supporting popular music heard throughout the film. Last but not least, The Karate Kid runs well over two hours, but it never once feel it; this is a fast-paced, strongly-edited, and altogether well-made picture that manages both lightning-fast action scenes and several more dramatically emotional elements that never slow the movie down.
The Karate Kid Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sony's commitment to releasing the finest Blu-ray products is evident with every spin of a Sony-branded disc. The consistency of product -- from the latest blockbusters to the most cherished classic titles from years gone by -- is arguably tops in the entire industry, and why shouldn't it be; Sony was a lead Blu-ray design and advocacy outfit, its PlayStation 3 console offered disc playback and instant wide format adoption, and the first wave of titles released back in 2006 bore the Sony label on the spine. Since then, and through a few growing pains and spurts -- a bloody format war, a misstep or two, the transition from Dolby TrueHD to DTS-HD Master Audio -- the studio has emerged as the most trustworthy in the industry when it comes to its Blu-ray product. When it says Sony, chances are extremely high that the movie is going to look (and sound) about as good as the format allows. Now, Sony is recalling the days of its "Superbit" DVD releases with the emergence of "Mastered in 4K" (*) Blu-ray discs. The initial wave consists of a handful of films, all of which have enjoyed previous, and largely very high quality, Blu-ray transfers. The new transfers are sourced from 4K masters but here's where the giant asterisk comes in: they're then downscaled to standard Blu-ray 1080p resolution. That means buyers can enjoy them on their regular old Blu-ray players and their regular old HDTVs -- no fancy new hardware required. The downside is that viewers aren't really seeing the material in 4K; even those who shell out the large sum of cash for a new 4K TV will be treated only to an upscaled presentation, much the same way today's regular old TV/playback 1080p device combos upscale standard definition DVDs.
Watching the "Mastered in 4K" transfer in 1080p does yield some benefits over the standard 1080p Blu-ray releases, even if it's not a true 4K experience. The discs take advantage of a significantly higher bitrate than regular old Blu-ray discs, meaning more muscle to produce the finest picture quality, revealing superior details and showcasing that perfect cinematic, pleasing grain texturing for pictures photographed on film and more accuracy for those photographed in the wholly digital realm. "Mastered in 4K" discs also promise superior color balance and accuracy, reproducing a more faithful-to-the-source palette that will reveal the sort of natural shading and subtle nuance even the best of 1080p Blu-ray cannot match. More, Sony promises enhanced viewing on its own line of 4K TVs thanks to a proprietary upscaling algorithm that's designed to squeeze the most out of the "Mastered in 4K" line of Sony discs, above and beyond what any competitor's display can offer. Makes sense considering some branch of Sony is at work along every step of the process. Unfortunately, one of Sony's shiny new 4K televisions was not available for review purposes, but suffice it to say that either of the launch displays -- the 55" and 65" XBR-labeled sets -- will undoubtedly offer the best consumer viewing picture to date, whether joined with a Sony "Mastered in 4K" disc or a regular old Blu-ray from any studio.
The big question with what is still a fairly brand-new movie like The Karate Kid is whether the "Mastered in 4K"/"Presented in 1080p" treatment is a leaps-and-bounds improvement over the previously released transfer. The short answer is "no." That's not to say that this film doesn't look spectacular here, because it does, and that's not to say there isn't a very slight uptick in noticeable quality on 1080p televisions, because there is. Take everything that was great about the previous transfer -- namely all of it -- and give it just a little more visual flash, oomph, and naturalism. Sony's "Mastered in 4K" presentation of The Karate Kid represents the pinnacle of 1080p home video viewing. It's truly difficult to imagine something looking even slightly better than this in 1080p. This is the best of 35mm filmed content on Blu-ray. Grain is extremely fine, details are precise, colors are brilliant, and the sum total is eye candy of the highest order. From the opening shot of the homemade growth chart scrawled on a door frame to the fine textures of Dre's braids as visible in close-up shots, from little imperfections on Mr. Han's lightly weathered screen door to the tiniest little fabric and stitching nuances in the orange school uniform tops, from worn-down and tattered building fašades to the most insignificant facial line, crease, or hair, the transfer reveals all with stunning ease, clarity, and beauty. Colors positively dazzle. There's no shortage of bright hues throughout the film; whether a yellow cab at the beginning, those orange school uniform tops, or lush vegetation greens, the transfer consistently springs to life with its color/texture combination. There's no dimming, no overly warm or hot colors, just a pure, vivid, realistic array. There's not a soft shot in the movie, not a hint of wear, not a touch of blocking, not a trace of edge enhancement. Skin textures are faultless and black levels are flawless. This is certainly the very best of consumer home video in 2013, and even if it's just a tease as to what movie fans can expect with the future of true 4K releases, it must be said that the future looks very bright. And very filmic. And it can't get here fast enough.
All screenshots have been sourced from the "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray disc. The first nineteen shots have been selected to match those found in the review of the old release. New screenshots have also been aded for perusal.
The Karate Kid Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Matching The Karate Kid's stellar "Mastered in 4K" 1080p transfer is its crisp, accurate, and immeasurably satisfying DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack that appears to be the same from the previous release. Although The Karate Kid's soundtrack isn't of the powerful and mind-boggling variety, it's sure to win over audiences with the way it handles its every element to sheer sonic perfection. The track delivers everything from the high-octane popular music of Flo Rida heard during a dance video game sequence in chapter 10 to the soothing elements of James Horner's excellent score with equal precision, the picture's assortment of music playing with a spacious and smooth posture across the front and just the right level of back-channel and low-end supportive elements. Bass is wonderfully realized in both music and sound effects; there's just enough of a noticeable thud accompanying the various kicks and punches to give them a bit of additional oomph, but not to the point that they come across as cartoonish or phony. Atmospherics are superbly handled, too. Whether the falling rain that cascades around the soundstage as Dre and his mother leave Detroit or the combination of chirping birds, rustling leaves, gentle winds, and chatty children that create an entire aural world around Dre's new school in chapter three, Sony's lossless soundtrack never delivers anything but the most seamless and convincing of sonic environments. Dialogue is center-focused and never forced to compete with outside influences, and at several junctures through the film the spoken word realistically echoes throughout more cavernous locales, such as a concert hall or a spacious dojo. The Karate Kid lacks the more aggressive action elements of soundtracks that play bigger than what it has to offer, but don't let the lack of pure volume and action deter what is another pitch-perfect lossless soundtrack from Sony.
The Karate Kid Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, none of the supplements from the previous release carry over here.
The Karate Kid Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Karate Kid will probably prove to be a divisive picture; some will be turned off by the mere fact that it's a remake while others may be angered at the changes in setting or character alterations. Some may not like it because it's so similar to the first that the point of the remake -- beyond cashing in on the title -- might not be readily obvious. Others may love it because it's so faithful to the original. There's certainly no doubt that the movie wouldn't exist if the studio didn't feel there was money yet to be made off the franchise; the bottom line is the foundation for most any big-budget picture ever made, but with The Karate Kid the filmmakers have rekindled a classic picture that was made famous not just for its injection into popular culture but because of its timeless themes and life lessons that solidified the picture and defined its very heart and soul. Director Harald Zwart's remake of The Karate Kid proves extraordinarily faithful to the original not only through its mere copycatting of various superficial elements but by the way it respectfully recaptures the same life lessons, beats with the same heart, and stirs those same base feelings in the soul that truly makes the 2010 remake such a rousing success and an honorable companion to the original. Sony's "Mastered in 4K" presentation, even at 1080p and not upscaled on a 4K television, looks absolutely fantastic. It's so pure it's sure to leave even the most hardened videophile in awe at just how awesome it looks. However, it's not so awesome that it warrants an upgrade over the previous release (which itself was pretty stellar), at least not at this price point. For those who don't yet own the movie and who don't care about extras, than this is certainly the way to go.
The Karate Kid: Other Editions
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