I thought the deal was, remakes are as hysterical as nostalgia feels. But this one’s even more somber and reserved—no easy feat—than its original. One took the emblem of Macchio quivering in that crane stance too literally—I signed up for karate class instead of readying this bullied soul for one last point. To think he was moving to 1984 California—decadence, the pax americana—whereas Jaden Smith is uprooted to galvanic Beijing. His mom, giving it to him straight: “There is nothing left for us in Detroit. This is what we got. This is home.” Everybody ready?
Calasso: “But who is an initiate? A person who has experienced a knowledge invisible from without and incommunicable except through the same process of initiation.” Jackie Chan: “Everything is kung fu.” Yes: to learn something is to learn, impossibly, the whole, including why your teacher is anonymous, half-invisible, prone to getting fucked up alone and smashing in his car with a baseball bat. The beauty of wax-on/wax-off is that it elicits the student’s perennial bad question: Why do I have to do this? And opens the door to the teacher’s necessary reply: Shut up and keep going. Not one but two really good training montages, in which stillness and empathy are the values only time can win. The sole shortcut: be like the hero of Ninja Assassin and have your heart on the other side of your chest, and upside-down.
Will and Jada Pinkett co-produced. The only step of which I disapprove: the 12-year-old Chinese girlfriend’s stripper moves during the dance sequence at the arcade (puh-puh-puh-poker face puh-puh-poker face). I know, parents just don’t understand. What’s sweet is the way the kids kiss behind the screen at the shadow theater, and everyone sees. One suddenly recognizes the true order: projector, puppet, screen, audience. So are we, seated in the theater between projector and screen, actually the puppets? And if so, who is it watching us from the far side of the screen, up there? And who pulls the strings? Well, that much at least we know.