The Karate Kid

Rating: 4/4 (Get lost in the fun world of Jackie Chan and Chinese kung fu in The Karate Kid, a perfect homage to the original)

The new The Karate Kid movie is hard to resist for anyone who likes the original 1984 movie, with the unforgettable character of Mr. Miyagi and his student’s Crane kick. The new movie is a perfect homage to the older one pitting Jaden Smith as the student and Jackie Chan as his guru.

How the times have changed! In the old movie, the kid and his mom move to California and the teacher is an immigrant from Japan who teaches Karate. In keeping with the rapidly changing geopolitics of our time, Dre (Jaden Smith) and him mom move from Detroit (USA) to China, following the move of the auto industry. And when Dre is bullied, when he tries to flirt with a cute Chinese girl, he turns to Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a maintainence man. Mr. Han teaches him kung fu, this is China afterall and karate is a Japanese martial art. The movie pretty much follows the original completely, with a Cobra maneuver replacing the cult-classic Crane kick. For the few who are not familiar with the old movie, the bully belongs to a bad-ass kung fu training school, where the teacher teaches an evil no-mercy version of the art. Dre and the bully collide frequently, and they decide to face off in a kung fu tournament to settle their differences. Mr. Han trains Dre, he uses Dre’s bad habit of not hanging up his jacket to teach him the basic moves. (This replaces the wax on, wax off routine of Mr. Miyagi.) Dre is ready after a couple of cool training montages and spectacular journeys through Chinese mountains and temples. Though the bully tries some unjust moves on Dre at the tournament, Dre finally prevails and earns the respect of everyone.

The movie is completely set in China, with almost all scenes shot on location. Most of the action takes place in Beijing (which I visited last year) and I found myself noticing and recalling the places, food, language and other cultural references. Surprising for a Hollywood movie, Dre and his mom are the only principal American actors, everyone else is Chinese. This makes this remake a lot more fresher and believable. The casting in the movie could not have been more perfect. Jaden Smith, the son of Will Smith, does not do a Dakot Fanning and delivers a believable performance. Taraji P. Henson, as his mom brings laughs to every single scene. Jackie Chan is peppy and charming as always, delivering almost all the fun of the movie. The grubby maintenance man look fits Chan perfectly, since he has finally started to show some age. Wen Wen Han (Dre’s crush) is very cute and Zhenwei Wang plays the perfect school bully to Dre. The Chinese locations are all spectacular, Forbidden City and The Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing, The Great Wall of China and the Wudang Mountains (location of the fake Dragon Well). The movie concentrates a lot more on the characters than on the kung fu, which is a relief. Even the matches in the final tournament are very short and quick, with very few moves. The movie had me completely sucked me into its world and I did not even notice its 2+ hour length! No matter what your age The Karate Kid will be hard to resist! 🙂


Dreams From My Father

Rating: 3/4 (A memorable personal journey through Obama’s life that needs better editing)

For the longest time, I have been wanting to read the two books written by Barack Obama. This happened after I was impressed by this US Presidential candidate, and wanted to find out more about his personal life and history. Dreams From My Father is his first book that is semi-autobiographical and does not disappoint at all.

Written and published way back in 1995, Dreams From My Father is a search by Obama for his identity. He was born to a Kenyan dad and White American mother from Hawaii. While his father from Kenya would strongly influence Obama’s search for himself later in life, the marriage itself was brief. His mother later married an Indonesian and they moved to live in that Islamic Asian country. Obama spent a few years growing up in Indonesia, immersed in Asian culture, language and food, witnessing corruption, violence and poverty. His mom later sent him back to Hawaii to live and study with his grandparents. Finishing school, he moved to mainland for college. Though of mixed race, he looked Black and his college years were filled with a search for his Black identity and flings with smoking and drugs. After graduation, Obama decided to become a community worker in the Black neighbourhoods of Chicago. He spent many years here, but had mixed success in realizing his aims. This is when he applied to study law at Harvard. He got an admit, but decided to take a journey to Kenya before that. This long African journey, full of personal adventures is when he discovered all of his dad’s relatives. He also learned about his tribe, his inheritance, his family history and finally found closure.

Dreams From My Father is interesting because the author opens himself up completely, but also because he is now the most powerful man on Earth. As Obama himself admits in a new preface to the book, it needs some drastic editing. While his time in Indonesia, Hawaii and Africa are page turners, the books gets unnecessarily detailed and boring with his Chicago years. Readers who survive through this and finish the book will not be disappointed. Obama’s journey through Kenya is especially scorching. It is also endearing to discover that the current US president has experienced other religions like Islam and Hinduism, has lived with Asians and immigrants, has done all kinds of drugs, has eaten with bare hands regularly on two continents and loves chapatis and samosas! These and many other life experiences of Obama make Dreams From My Father quite a memorable read. Excerpts from the book which I loved are shared here. I would love to read his next book The Audacity of Hope.

PS: If the cover piqued your interest, on the left of Obama is his grandmother holding his dad on her lap and on the right is his grandfather holding his mom. 🙂

Dear John

Rating: 2/4 (Barely watchable romance drama that is too long)

I usually stick to romantic comedies, since pure romances are a tad too heavy for my taste. But, I watched Dear John with my partner in a feeble attempt to compensate for the violent movies I had been inflicting upon her! 😀

Dear John is a romantic movie based on a novel of the same name written by Nicholas Sparks. John (Channing Tatum) is a soldier who meets Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) on his vacation. Savannah meets his reclusive dad and soon they all come closer as John and Savannah fall in love. 9/11 happens at this time and John decides to return back to serve his country in the Middle East. They promise each other that they would write letters until they can meet again. As the war drags on and John cannot return, the couple find themselves drifting apart. By the time John returns, his dad is dead and Savannah has married their mutual friend. Tragic events later in life bring them back together.

Dear John is barely watchable only due to the main characters, Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. Not only do they fit their squeaky-clean innocent characters perfectly, their chemistry is great too. Unless they are careful, there is a danger of them being cast in a train of similar movies that are upcoming, all based on Nicholas Sparks’ books. The romance here is interesting, but the plot is super long and insists on plodding slowly through it all. Dear John is a barely watchable romance drama that is too long .

Karthik Calling Karthik

Rating: 3/4 (A watchable gem of mystery, except for its length)

There is not a boring moment in Karthik Calling Karthik, a new movie starring the ever-interesting Farhan Akhtar. Karthik (Farhan Akhtar) is a shy guy who is taken advantage of by everyone. To make matters worse, Shonali (Deepika Padukone), the hot chick at his office does not even notice him. When Karthik gets pushed too far, he decides to end his life. But, he is saved by a mysterious caller on his new phone. The caller identifies himself as Karthik too and seems to know everything about his life. The caller peps up Karthik and helps him succeed at work and with Shonali. Just when things are hunky-dory, Karthik reveals his secret caller to Shonali. This angers the caller and he starts to wreak havoc on Karthik’s life. Who is this mysterious caller and how does Karthik get rid of him?

Karthik Calling Karthik creates an intriguing plot based on a teeny little trick. The clue is hidden right there in the movie title itself. Just how that happens is revealed towards the end. The movie is fast and fun while Karthik is bullied and he hits back with the help of his mysterious caller. But, everything gets glacially slow once the caller starts taking his revenge. This half of the movie could have easily been cut further in half. Farhan Akhtar is eminently watchable, with his expressive face and raspy voice. Deepika, not so much of acting, but just a pretty girl. The music is peppy, but forgettable, no track or melody you will recall after the movie. The production quality of the movie is neat, the visuals are all nicely composed. Karthik Calling Karthik is a watchable gem of mystery, except for its length.