| The crowd-pleasing blueprint is largely intact for this modernized multicultural remake of the beloved 1984 cult classic.
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith from “The Pursuit of Happyness”), a 12-year-old African-American boy, is not very enthusiastic about moving from Detroit to Beijing when his widowed mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) gets a job transfer to her employer’s overseas car factory.
Dre is immediately attracted to Meiying (Han Wenwen), a cutie who plays the violin. A group of Asian kids led by bully Cheng (Wang Zhenwei) take exception to this outcast invading their turf. Cheng throws Dre to the cement several times with his exceptional martial arts fighting skills. Dre ends up with a black eye that he tries to hide from his mother.
During a second brawl with Cheng and his pint-sized ninjas, the apartment building handyman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan from “Forbidden Kingdom” and “Rush Hour”) steps in and saves Dre from further injury. Dre pleads with Han to teach him how to fight back. Han reluctantly agrees to take Dre under his wing.
Dre trains for an open kung fu tournament with a chance to gain respect from his peer group of competitors. A more accurate title for this underdog odyssey would have been “The Kung Fu Kid” since that is the martial art demonstrated in the movie.
This enjoyable and entertaining movie is filled with poignant emotional moments. The movie has dramatic heft, taking on issues that involve culture clash and language barriers. The spunky Smith, with his hair in long cornrows, has an undeniable screen charisma and proves that the apple doesn’t fall far from the talent tree. Most people are aware that he is the son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Chan gives an Oscar-worthy supporting performance and is able to combine laugh-out-loud comedy with serious life lessons about maintaining the right attitude, treating people with respect and an appreciation of nature. Smith and Chan have a winning chemistry that goes beyond merely pupil and mentor.
The breathtaking scenic backgrounds include the Forbidden City, the Wudang Mountains and the Great Wall.
There are not enough superlatives for all the things done right by Dutch-Norwegian director Harald Zwart (“Agent Cody Banks” and “The Pink Panther 2”) and screenwriter Christopher Murphey. Some of the major strengths include the original musical score by Oscar-winning composer James Horner (“Titanic”), the colorful costumes, cinematography that effectively utilizes shadows, martial arts choreography and stunt work featuring parkour. The movie’s only drawback is a nearly 2˝-hour running time, but any editing would encounter difficulty in what scenes to shorten or leave out.
Youngsters will be fascinated and mesmerized by Dre’s amazing transformative journey. You will leave the theater with a smile on your face and a joyful feeling in your heart. The applause was deafening at the advance screening and an indication that this will be the sleeper hit of the summer. The dialogue is partially in Mandarin with easy-to-read English subtitles.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"