Kung Fu Prince of Bel-Airby Kavish Chetty / 21.09.2010
The ‘90s becomes, increasingly, a distant memory (but its déjà vu is still made up of garish primary colours and light-blue denim). And so does the Fresh Prince – time has wedged itself between us and that lanky motherfucker. “He’s getting old,” we sigh with collective gratitude to the aging process: “He’s getting old and we’re slowly escaping him.” But The Karate Kid proves that Will Smith cannot be outrun. Our desires to see the decade of his reign firmly in our review mirror are being thwarted. His progeny, the dreadlocked issue of his loins, has come to reclaim the throne. Enter: Jaden Smith.
My first attempt to review this film ended with the rather unsatisfactory conclusion that it was “inoffensive.” Until I discovered that this ‘karate kid’ is actually championing kung-fu: a lovely cultural distinction that in typical Hollywood fashion is killed – look! Slant-eyed yellowskins throwing punches – it must be karate (‘kuh-rahd-dee’). Forget centuries of simmering Sino-Japanese cultural conflict. It’s all just one big homogeneous “East” to Hollywood. Hai-ya! Not enough to deliver my case? How about that this film follows in the tradition of creatively-malnourished scriptwriters exhuming ‘classics’ (I use that term so begrudgingly: what the hell was so special about the first Karate Kid anyway? Wax-on, wax-off – clever Hollywood techniques to bullshit your children into manual labour?) because they’re too bored and unoriginal to come up with new ideas? Or maybe it’s just the barrage of unfiltered status quo that got me all queasy likes.
Jaden Smith goes to mainland China with his mama because of her job. One day he’s “chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool; shootin’ some b-ball outside of his school / when a couple of guys, they were up to no good. They started making trouble in his neighbourhood. He gets into one little fight,” and then a burnt-out maintenance man named Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) teaches him how to fight. After an interminable series of formative episodes, two thirds of which involve him picking up his jacket, taking it off again, hanging it up on a hook again (the 21st century version of wax-on/wax-off), he gets to demonstrate his skills in a kung-fu tournament. That final scene is delivered, as the GZA would say, “with the impact of roundhouse kicks from black belts that attack.” It’s twenty minutes of acrobatics and ACDC singing “Back in Black,” because, of course, in this remake the protagonist is now black. You know this is coming so it’s hardly a spoiler: he kicks his nemesis’ ass after about three false-alarm failures, and then in about five seconds flat, all his ex-bullies suddenly love him and forget about the months of torment that have gone on before the tournament. It’s all about honour with those Chinese, apparently. Just kick their ass at kung-fu and they’ll call it bygones.
To close off this litany of over-reaching, head-up-the-ass criticisms, I say this: Jaden Smith is 12 years old. How does this explain his budding romance for his Chinese stereotype (ie, overactive academic and violinist with conservative parents) love interest? He seems too immature for a love interest. How am I supposed to take seriously the bullies’ grimaces and sneers when I know they’re still shooting blanks through late puberty? This economically-motivated curiosity will help to draw in ticket sales from both sad nostalgia suckers and its prepubescent target audience – but that target audience, that new generation of consumers, has yet to discover what their Will Smith 2.0 is capable of. Hell, what I am I saying? If symptoms of Generation Zed persist, they’ll love him in this film, and then afterwards they’ll go shag in the toilets at Cavendish, take pictures with their cellphones and trade ‘em to lecherous fiends on MXit and generate banal copy for our newspapers and get murdered – and thus, natural selection reveals its enigmatic process.
“Oh no he di’n’t!” – Will Smith, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.