Despite the controversy (OK, maybe BECAUSE of the controversy -- that's just the way I roll!) and the PG rating (violence and mild language), I took the girls to see the Karate Kid. The main draw for me was the fact that the boy and his mom were American expats in China, something we experienced in 2007. The girls and I kept leaning over to each other to whisper, "We saw that in China!" And that wasn't just for the big things, like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, which were both represented in the film. It was the little things, like scenes of old ladies exercising in the park, and the metal NordicTrak-like exercise equipment in the park, and the hot water heater in the shower that has to be turned on 30 minutes before you take a shower, and Chinese mountain-climbing which means by way of a million stairs, and climbing that mountain to reach a special spring at the top. Seeing all of that again was really fun.
Was it a fully accurate and non-stereotyped view of life in China? Of course not -- the movie is only 140 minutes long! Even a ten-part documentary covering 20 hours would be hard pressed to do that. The most unrealistic thing for me, though, was not the improbable kung fu tricks but the fact that African American Dre and his mom walked down the streets of Beijing and there weren't a million Chinese turning around to stare at them! I'm SURE the street extras were especially coached not to do so! There was one scene I found particularly stereotyped and offensive near the beginning -- when Dre (Jaden Smith) is looking for Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), he wanders into the wrong room and there are a half-dozen Chinese men, dirty, slovenly, one with round Charlie Chan glasses, staring at him stupidly. Yes, it was partially designed to showcase Dre's difficulties in not speaking any Chinese, but I thought it was unnecessarily exaggerated. And I would have liked to see Dre more open to learning Chinese language and some culture other than kung fu, but maybe that's too much to ask of a kid who doesn't want to go to China and once there keeps getting beat up by Chinese kids!
There was great potential in the film to make all Chinese out to be bad guys, with the really mean Chinese bullies and the really creepy and mean Chinese kung fu teacher of the really mean Chinese bullies. But Jackie Chan, being Chinese, clearly counteracted that. His message was that the kung fu teacher was wrong, and the boys not so much mean as misguided (“No such thing as bad students, only bad teachers.”). And the really mean Chinese bullies kind of redeem themselves at the end, which helps in not demonizing all Chinese people. And one neat thing -- when Dre and Mr. Han climb the mountain and encounter REAL kung fu masters, several of them and the most impressive one of all, are women!
I'm not going to share any more details so as not to spoil it in case you haven't seen the movie yet. But Zoe loved the whole thing, and Maya loved the romantic bits with Dre and the Chinese girl (though was scared by the fighting scenes and ended up on my lap before the end of the movie). Both say they want to see it again. I'd actually see it again to revisit all those simple scenes reminding us of life in China!