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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Karate Kid

Will Smith's 'Men in Black 3' censored in China

May 31, 2012 | 11:34 am

"Men in Black 3" is the latest film to face the wrath of Chinese censors.

At least three minutes of Sony's sci-fi comedy have been excised for its Chinese theatrical run, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

The offending moments take place in New York's Chinatown. They include a Chinese-restaurant shootout between evil aliens and Will Smith's Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K -- the aliens are disguised as restaurant workers -- as well as a moment when Smith’s J  “neuralyzes,” or memory-wipes, a group of Chinese bystanders.

A Chinese paper, the China Southern Daily, speculated that the latter scene may have been cut because it could be viewed as a comment on China's censorship of the Internet.

The news was first reported in the English-language press by Britain’s Daily Telegraph, which pegged the total time of the cuts at 13 minutes.

"MIB 3" opened to more than $21 million in China last weekend, by far the largest total of any of the more than 50 foreign territories in which the movie bowed.

Chinese law limits the number of Hollywood movies that can be shown in its theaters, prompting studios to be unusually careful about any China-related content they include in their films. In this case, Sony learned of the Chinese government’s objections after the film had been completed.

This is hardly the first time a Hollywood movie has been altered for mainland release. A moment in "Mission: Impossible 3" featuring laundry hanging in Shanghai, for instance, was removed before the film was shown in China. Scenes of the Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat playing a villain in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” were also expunged.

Studios are sometimes proactive in removing scenes themselves. MGM changed in postproduction the nationality of villains in its upcoming "Red Dawn" reboot, digitally transforming them from Chinese to North Korean.

Sony is no stranger to working with the Chinese government. The company collaborated with the Asian nation on its 2010 reboot of "The Karate Kid," which was shot in Beijing and other parts of the country and offered a generally positive view of life on the mainland -- and starred Will Smith's son, Jaden.

You can see some of the Chinatown scenes in this trailer:



'Men in Black 3' was no easy sequel to make

Hollywood tries to stay on China's good side

'Men in Black 3' is Memorial Day's top weekend movie

 -- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Men in Black 3." Credit: Sony Pictures

Is a multiplex full of family films the future of moviegoing?

June 21, 2010 |  9:30 am

So it turns out the box office is not a place of hopelessness and despair.

It's just a place of hopelessness and despair for those of us who are not young children.

That may sound a little dramatic, especially since movies aimed at sophisticated adults -- i.e. "Winter's Bone" and "Cyrus" -- are performing well within their (very) limited parameters. But for the bigger-budgeted films, the kinds that studios spend most of their time and money producing, it's barely an exaggeration. For the second week in a row this summer, the box office showed signs of life. And for the second week in a row, the instrument providing the CPR was a movie aimed at (and seen by) kids and the parents who take them, as "Toy Story 3" grossed an eye-popping $109 million.

That follows last week's surprise $56 million of "The Karate Kid" (a movie performing so well that it didn't seem to suffer from the encroachment of "Toy Story," which sought almost exactly the same audience, this week).

And it further follows a litany of disappointments for movies aimed at everyone else, as everyone else seems to be rejecting what studios are offering them -- the teen and 20-something action junkies who didn't turn out for "Prince of Persia" or "The A-Team," the 30- and 40-something women who didn't turn out for "Sex and the City 2," the young comicbook fans who didn't turn out for "Kick-Ass," the, well, whoever it was studios were aiming at with "Jonah Hex."

Of course adults went to see, and in many cases enjoyed, both "Toy Story" and "The Karate Kid" (we did when we saw the latter last week). But it's impossible not to notice a trend in all this: Families are the ones going to the movies these days. Perhaps the only ones.

That's not just a summer phenomenon. Almost every big hit among the 2010 releases has been a movie whose primary, if not overwhelming, audience is children 12 and under -- "How to Train Your Dragon," "Shrek Forever After," "Alice in Wonderland." Ditto for the year's biggest sleeper, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." In fact, there isn't a single big-studio movie aimed at children that failed, save perhaps for "Marmaduke" (and some would argue that wasn't a movie).

Many of the film world's most prominent disappointments, meanwhile, have been movies aimed at teens, 20-somethings and early 30-somethings, and films that went hard after them like "Hot Tub Time Machine," "Get Him to the Greek" and "Cop Out" (not to mention movies that target actual adults rather than, um, overgrown adolescents).

There were a few scattered exceptions -- "Valentine's Day" and "Shutter Island" both did very well drawing adults. (And one major exception, "Avatar," drew all audiences, though that movie is sui generis and came out in 2009 anyway.) But by and large it's been a growing box-office truth. Get the kids and you'll get the dollars. Otherwise, as a studio executive, you may see red (as your knuckles go white and your hair goes gray).

This trend is of course at least partly testament to the quality of family films. It used to be that kids went to see almost anything thrown at them, so as a result the studios threw pretty much anything at them. But the last few years have brought a conspicuous rise in the quality of family entertainment, led chiefly by animated movies, which makes adults more willing to come and see them too.

But we also shouldn't be too taken aback by this trend for another reason. The move to the family film is a continuation of the phenomenon of the great shrinking audience that Hollywood has seen (and in many ways enacted) over the past few years. First, it was filmgoers over 30 whom the studios abandoned -- which they did by closing down the specialty divisions that made movies for that audience -- to concentrate on films made for fanboys.

Now, with so many movies aimed at young males flopping this year, it may not be long before they move away from those too. "Iron Man 2" was a strong performer (in part due to all the goodwill that existed for the first movie). But is there a studio on Earth that wouldn't want any one of the big animated hits over, say, "Clash of the Titans"? Or "The Wolfman"?

There's no way of knowing how panicky studio executives will react to all this. But if past experience is any indication, they tend to overcompensate in the direction the wind is blowing. So family films that are in development will get pushed up the pipeline; movies aimed at everyone else get pushed back. And before you know it (usually in two or three years, when the winds may have changed direction again), we could see a multiplex full of movies the whole family can enjoy.

Smart movies aimed at kids aren't a bad thing, of course; Hollywood could certainly use more "Toy Storys" and "Dragons." But if those are the only options at the multiplex on a Saturday night, that hardly seems welcome either.

Sociologists and psychologists will give reasons why children are the only ones going to the movies. And film pundits will offer their own explanations -- namely, many of the movies aimed at people 13 and over aren't very good (four words: "The Bounty Hunter," and "Killers"). But the reasons are in a sense less important than the consequences. Studio executives like to avoid risk (the only the thing, it can sometimes seem, that they're passionate about these days). And making a movie for anyone other than families means taking a huge risk. A family film, on the other hand, will deliver a happy ending almost as certainly as a climactic fight scene in the "The Karate Kid."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Toy Story 3. Credit: Pixar/Walt Disney Pictures


Toy Story 3 appears blessed; Jonah Hex appears cursed

Toy Story 3 opens at No. 1

Diary of a Wimpy Kid could augur a post Harry-Potter boom

Does the new Karate Kid do the original justice?

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Should studios continue bringing back the '80s?

June 14, 2010 |  7:00 am


If this movie-going summer was to yield nothing else, it was at least bring us this: clarity about Hollywood's investment in reviving the 1980s.

And no weekend would throw more light on that question than this one, with its unlikely coincidence of two major '80s properties hitting the screen at the same time. All we needed to feel more like we were back in Reaganville were Billy Joel and Madonna solving a Rubik's Cube while "Knight Rider" and "The Cosby Show" played in the background.

And yet as the weekend wound down, we were left with little clarity at all. The verdict was as split as opinions on "Twin Peaks" -- one movie, "The Karate Kid," overachieved at the box office, and the other, "The A-Team," sputtered behind it ($30 million behind it).

That would seem to give no indication of anything, except for maybe Hollywood's go-to trope: The movie has to deliver, regardless of its era of origin. Conceived under the hand of could-his-stock-drop-any-faster Joe Carnahan, "The A-Team" was a fusillade of nonsensical noise, and audiences saw right through it. On the other hand, "The Karate Kid," while hardly representing a breakthrough in cinematic accomplishment (or a narrative or emotional triumph over the original), did what Hollywood arguably does best: produce a competent entertainment that offers few surprises but succeeds completely as a crowd-pleaser.

That all would seem to suggest little about what we can expect from future remakes, or yield any guidance about how much Hollywood should continue down its '80's path (with a new "Beverly Hills Cop,"  "Wall Street," etc.) But there is a lesson nestled beneath the split decision.

By chance, we happened to catch on cable this weekend two truly great pop classics from the '80s, "Field of Dreams" and "Back to the Future." (It's almost as if cable programmers, aware of how the '80s were being tortured on the big screen, decided to slip in a little reminder of how it's really done).

Obviously the Me Decade had more than its share of stinkers and mass-marketed schlock too. But what struck us from watching these two films, which existed not in the art house ghetto but as broad hits at the multiplex, is how different they feel from the current crop in one key respect: their fundamental grasp of storytelling, which in both films came off as effortless and intuitive in a way that few movies do these days. (We didn't watch the original "Karate Kid" again, but we saw that a few weeks ago too, and you can certainly add that to the list.)

Maybe in this sense the forces behind the new "Karate Kid" understood more than they appeared to. It's hard, they reasoned, to come up with a movie that contains true storytelling chops, let alone to get that movie green-lighted. So the least we could do, they said, is imitate a movie that had them. At least subconsciously, the remake craze may be partly about good narrative, not just easy marketing. 

Of course, the better approach would be not to copy great storytelling but to come up with some new ones. (Right now, "Inception" director Chris Nolan seem to be the only filmmaker with the vision and clout to realize this.) But then, in a storytelling climate that's so barren, a few drops of rain are welcome, even if it's the rain of 25 years ago.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams." Credit: Universal Pictures

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2010 MTV Movie Awards: Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan talk 'The Karate Kid' (VIDEO)

June 6, 2010 |  8:29 pm

Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith Monday evening marks the premiere of the new "The Karate Kid," and the film's stars, Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, told us they're ready for the movie to hit theaters.

"It's gonna be great," said Will Smith's son, who was wearing a studded jacket bearing the movie's symbol.

And how was it working with the legendary Chan?

"Oh, it was great. He's a great person, and he's a little bit weird," Smith joked. "His hair doesn't move."

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. Credit: Mike Nelson / EPA

Is the China of 'The Karate Kid' a credit to that country or a disservice to this one?

June 4, 2010 |  4:51 pm

Observers have been paying close attention to production on "The Kung Fu Kid" "The Karate Kid" since  the movie was announced last year; this has been, after all, more just an attempt to update a quarter-century-old pop classic but Hollywood's largest co-production with China to date.

Kara More on the movie in the coming days, but upon seeing the film this week we couldn't help but notice what will quickly jump out even to casual viewers: the cultural tourism that pervades the film. Clocking in at more than two hours (about the same length as the original), the new movie is extended not by any more time spent hitting the requisite notes -- the forbidden tween romance, the redemptive fight scenes, the menial-but-life-altering training routines -- but by the fetishizing shots of the Chinese landscape.

Nominally incorporated as part of the regimen of young Dre Parker (Jaden Smith), many of these shots exists  to showcase the country's varied (and, as my colleague Patrick Goldstein points out, sanitized) topography. There's a lengthy scene at the Taoist holy site at Wudang Mountain in which we see glorious mountains from below and equally lush valleys from a dramatic cliffside temple above. The Forbidden City is shown as a giant playground for a group of children, free of guards or other tourists (or the chaos and checkered history of Tiananmen Square just outside its walls).

The everyday urban spaces get a similarly romantic treatment. Squares fill with whooshing colors of those practicing martial arts,  and the markets in which Dre and his mother (Taraji P. Henson) try out local delicacies overflow with a kind of vibrant beauty.

There are also gauzy, glamorized shots of the Great Wall, which Dre runs up and down it under the watchful eye of his mentor Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a kind of Rocky steps for a new generation, or at least for an export-minded corporation.

Director Harald Zwart, studio Sony and the picture's American producers (including Will Smith) took pains to get as much of China in as they can. But it's only a certain kind of China. The images aren't entirely inaccurate, at least according to our own time spent there. But they hardly tell the whole story -- eliding, for starters, hutongs and bicycle crowds and everything else that makes Beijing, well, Beijing. If the head of the country's department of tourism served as the film's D.P., it probably wouldn't look much different.

All of this is clearly meant, at least in part, to show the Chinese government that such a co-production was worthwhile. The government-run film corporation invested about one-eighth of the production budget, as my colleague John Horn reports, and it more than gets its money's worth.

But it's hard not to feel like there was an opportunity squandered. Showing China in the best possible light may appease the government, but it hardly helps American filmgoers, many of whom won't have a chance to see China in person and will have this be one of their main experiences of the country, over several hours in the immersion of a movie theater.  Yes, few going to the multiplex to see "The Karate Kid" next weekend are doing so to to understand Asian culture. But it comes through just the same.

I'm not sure the non-visual messages are any more subtle. The film's general tone toward China is at once deferential and high-handed. The attempt to show the native way of life as somehow more pure and serene, as the film often does, may have seemed like a good way to pay tribute to the country, but it can feel patronizing.

And I'm not sure American audiences won't see through the gambit. It's one thing for a little slice-of-life photography to come through in an East-meets-West film (the second "Karate Kid" did just that in Japan). But even a non-discerning audience can see the difference between local color and a tourist brochure.

Then again, maybe there's a neat symmetry to all of this. Studios have spent decades showcasing American cities to foreign audiences with a healthy amount of creative license, taking an America of the imagination and depicting it as a reality for the benefit of Asian countries. It was only a matter of time before Asia returned the favor.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Karate Kid." Credit: Sony Pictures

Preview review: Jaden Smith fights his way through 'The Karate Kid'

February 24, 2010 |  7:00 am

Karatekid2 The 1984 teen film "The Karate Kid" told the story of a dorky outcast, played by Ralph Macchio, who was taught the sacred art of karate by the wise Mr. Miyagi (the late Pat Morita) in order to defend himself against school bullies.

The film has since become such a cultural staple that when Sony announced it was remaking the movie, some skeptics wondered if a reboot could taint the original. The new film, which comes out in June, stars Jaden Smith (who also happens to be Will Smith's son, who also happens to a producer on the movie).

Smith plays Dre Parker, a young boy whose childhood is disrupted when his mother (Taraji P. Henson) takes a job in China. After moving from the United States, Dre -- like Ralph Macchio before him -- is teased by schoolkids and seeks solace in a friendship with an older martial artist, here known as Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who teaches him the ways of kung fu against the backdrop of the Great Wall and other Chinese landmarks.

Jaden's 11, and he's kind of adorable. But he's also really little -- so little we're skeptical about buying him as a newly minted martial-arts hero. Boyish is one thing; child-like is another.

So we went back and watched the trailer for the original and got a little bit nostalgic. Macchio, with his poofy '80s hair and cut-off T-shirts, exudes just the right amount of cheese so the movie doesn't take itself too seriously. And the entire spectacle is grounded by Morita, who oozes a sage wisdom we're not sure, at least judging by the trailer, that action star Jackie Chan will be able to pull off.

Will Jaden prove to be as big a box-office draw as his famous dad? Is there any way the remake will be able to live up to the landmark original? Share your thoughts in our poll.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Jaden Smith stars in "The Karate Kid." Credit: Columbia Pictures


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