- Released Internationally on 11/06/10
- Released in Malta by KRS on 28/07/10
Preview (first published 01/07/10 in VIDA magazine)
Not another sequel, but rather a remake of the original 1984 film. The kid in question is now portrayed by Jaden Smith, who had a promising introduction to the movie world in The Pursuit of Happyness, and is starting to look uncannily like his father, Will. After moving to Beijing with his mother, the young kid runs into some bullying and lots of culture shock, but he pulls his act together thanks to the guidance of a local kung-fu master. Filling in the classic mentor role is none other than Jackie Chan, who has so many martial arts films under his belt that it doesn't matter what colour it is.
Rocky and friends
On a superficial level, this film is a familiar, satisfying and rather simple underdog story, which we’ve seen before in numerous versions set in numerous cities. This time around the city happens to be post-Olympics Beijing, and the medium happens to be kung-fu (not karate, by the way). But it’s pretty formulaic – new kid in an unfamiliar setting, gets bullied, finds a past-his-prime mentor who decides to take him under his wing, thinks get tough, they argue, things get better, we see a rousing training montage, and the big final tournament arrives. Then things take a bad turn and all looks lost, but our underdog hero wins in the end. Hugs, sweat, slow-motion, meaningful glances. Yet some similar movies manage to be both very entertaining and heart-warming despite adhering to the above predictable storyline. This one manages, but not in a big way.
The Golden Child
One of the main distractions is the kid himself. This film was produced by Jaden Smith’s star parents, and is very obviously a film with one sole purpose – to be a star vehicle for their son. Which I guess could be seen as Hollywood-style good parenting. But it also makes the whole project seem a bit unnecessary and self-centred. Why remake a film less than 30 years-old which many people remember and which has spawned countless other sequels and similar films? Is this kid too impatient to wait until an original project comes along? Is it so important that he starts to star before he starts to shave? In his defence, Smith Jr. does remarkably well, and besides being blessed with good genes, seems to have enough presence and basic acting to pull the title role off. Even more impressive are his martial arts moves however, which are evidently done by him in a number of scenes. He may be pint-sized, but I wouldn’t recommend stealing his lunch-box.
Also tarnishing an otherwise straightforward sports movie is the age of the main characters. Smith seems rather young to be going through the aggression and romance issues his character faces in Beijing, and the final tournament is rather brutal considering the participants were only recently weaned off breast-milk. Taraji P. Henson, such a memorable mother to Benjamin Button, seems rather at odds with her son here, and I suspect any reasonable mother would have withdrawn him from the tournament after seeing the sort of bouts it boasts. Jackie Chan goes through the mentor role as expected, nursing a personal tragedy of his own but still managing to make his pupil a winner. The schoolmates and adversaries are all rather stereotypical children, and act more as struts to Smith’s needs rather than as characters of their own.
In the end
Apart from a solitary, beautiful scene with a cobra, this film goes through the paces without ever being too memorable. If you like martial arts, and Jackie Chan, this is one entertaining underdog story you’ve seen before, but won’t mind seeing again. If you’d rather not watch pre-pubescent boys beat the life out of each other, you might want to look elsewhere for something more original.