Their Kung Fu is bad. My Kung Fu is good. You decide.

Well, nothing is said exactly like that, but that’s how Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) describes Kung Fu. At least his, and Kung Fu in general: use Kung Fu to make peace with everyone, including yourself. Kung Fu, in fact, is everything. Kung fu is the piece that drives this film, from the early encounters in which Dre (Jaden Smith) gets bullied, to the rousing tournament in the end, a well staged and executed sequence that utilizes various degrees of Kung Fu, all of it being very impressive.

I haven’t seen the remake in a long time, but this is essentially a point-by-point remake with a few changes: Kung Fu instead of karate, China instead of urban America, and Mr. Han (the Mr. Miyogi in the story) gets a back story. China is used quite well actually: some of the training occurs on the Great Wall, and the camera sweeping over it the first time is quite amazing. I also read somewhere that this is the second film ever to gain access to the Forbidden City, though we only get a wide shot and Dre playing drums on the rock climber inspired front door. A mountain is climbed where Mr. Han learned his Kung Fu, and that actually offers some of the best cinematography in the movie. Beijing is used quite well, both in the sanitized Olympic Village, and the messy residential area of narrow streets and hundreds of people in a single square mile.

Mr. Han’s back story works well actually, as it adds to the bond between himself and Dre: Dre lost his father at some point (I can’t remember if he died or just left), while Han lost his family (the car in the living room does make sense). Jackie Chan has become a more versatile actor in his old age: while he doesn’t move as he once did (though he still can kick some butt), his ability to give emotion and connect with everyone around him adds to his allure. This kind of role serves him much better than, say, The Spy Next Door or whatever that travesty was.

Jaden Smith as Dre, meanwhile, does what all 12-year-old kids do when they go to China unwillingly: be a brat. He does nothing to help his mom, he’s disrespectful all around, and he’s easily instigated, which doesn’t humble him the first or second time he gets picked on/gets beat up. He gets a Chinese girlfriend-ish person, though her character completely disappears in the third act (same with his mom, actually).

Then again, the third act is the tournament, so of course the focus is on that, but by then, we want Dre to win. He comes to terms with his rebellion, understanding Mr. Han, understanding life, understanding everything.

The movie is long (the second longest to Robin Hood actually this summer season), but for good reason. All of the characters get proper room to breathe and build. I cared about pretty much all of the characters (well, except for the bad guys, but they’re the ones you really do hate). How many summer movies – or wide release movies for that matter – can I say that about?

Not very many, it would seem. Enjoyable all around.

B+

Note: Jaden Smith is turning into his dad.  Note the sequence early on when Mr. Han swats a fly on the wall, or when Dre does some pop-locking for the Chinese girl.  Not sure if this is a good thing.

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