Thursday, June 10, 2010
“Karate! Kung fu! Whatever!” Mom says. Exactly! Who cares what the Asian ass-kicking is called. Not important! The important thing is that the cute little American kid will teach the Chinese ignoramuses a thing or two about their own culture. Stupid foreigners!
No, it’s true. Jaden Smith is the adorable 12-year-old Dre Parker, who moves with Mom (Taraji P. Henson) from Detroit to Beijing because that’s how the floundering U.S. car companies are dealing with the collapse of their industry. Instantly, Dre is getting beat on by teenage Chinese bullies led by the horrifically one-note Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) because Dre has the nerve to like violin-playing Meiying (Wenwen Han). Dre gets a crapload of crap beaten out of him, to the point where it starts to get real uncomfortable: Do people actually want to see a little kid take this kind of thrashing?
Dre would totally be into learning some proper kung fu for self-defense, but apparently there’s only one kung fu school in Beijing, and it’s where Cheng is already a student. Imagine the coincidence! Also, it’s a bad school because the mean-faced instructor there is teaching Cheng and his mean bully friends a sort of cruel fu in which the students have to shout, over and over again, things like “No mercy!” and “We’ll totally kill Will Smith’s adorable son, just see if we won’t!”
So Dre has absolutely no choice but to learn karate! kung fu! whatever! from Jackie Chan, the maintenance man in Dre and Mom’s new apartment building.
About 12 hours into this cup of wet tea, Chan finally gets to be Jackie Chan – instead of doing stuff like fixing the shower in Dre’s apartment – by beating up on Cheng and his friends. Which is sorta sad. I know Chan is getting old, but kung fu-ing kids? Another hour later, the movie itself actually starts, when Chan agrees to train Dre by nagging at him to pick up his jacket and telling him things like “Everything is kung fu.” Which isn’t actually reflected in the movie or anything, but it sounds good.
After a few hours more, we learn why Chan is so sad. Perhaps it seemed like a good time to throw in some Oscar-clip-ish melodrama. Or maybe screenwriters Christopher Murphey and Robert Mark Kamen suddenly realized that the movie was not padded out with sidetracking nonsense enough, and without this detour there was no way they could reach their apparent goal of ensuring the film is 187 hours long.
The obnoxious score swells to let you know an emotional epiphany has been reached, but you realize there’s at least another half an hour to go.
But don’t worry: Chan will enunciate the moral of the movie, in case you hadn’t already been kicked in the face with it, and then Dre will parrot it back to him at a moment deemed appropriate, something about getting back up on a horse. Eventually, Dre will make certain that Cheng and his mean-faced teacher understand that their cruel fu is contrary to Chinese wisdom and stuff. Go America!