Although not considered a stone cold classic (and even downright hated by some fans of the original 1984 film), the 2010 version of The Karate Kid not only gave a starring role to a young Jaden Smith, but also (more surprisingly) showcased Jackie Chan's wider acting range.
In this scene, Jackie Chan's performance brought me to tears as his facade of a seemingly stoic and grumpy old man crumbles away to reveal a man broken by tragedy.
As well as bringing back elements alluded to earlier in the film (the car, the training nooses on sticks and the shadows in the puppet play), this scene also serves as the turning point for all three characters in it and drives them forward with deeper purpose into the final act of the film. Dre recognises the deeper spiritual impact of his Kung Fu training, Han comes to terms with his guilt by sharing his pain; and Dre’s Mother accepts the commitment that Dre has made to his new hobby and the place he has found for himself in this strange new country.
THE SCENE (1:35:50)
Having been told that he can no longer be friends with a girl he likes due to pressure from her parents, as well as being continually taunted by a gang of bullies, Dre walks the streets of Beijing forlornly.
He decided to visit Han, the caretaker of the building that he lives in, who he has convinced to teach him the art of Kung Fu and been training under ever since. If anyone were to be able to give him guidance at this time it would be him. Having constantly felt like a fish out of water since he and his single mother arrived in China, Han has become like a father figure to him.
Despite being told there would be no training today he decides to visit the courtyard where they train anyway. It’s late and it has started to get dark.
As Dre approaches the entrance to the courtyard he hears a smashing sound.
Rounding the corner he see Han smashing his car with a sledgehammer. The same car we have seen him fixing up meticulously throughout the film.
As Han continues to wreck the car, Dre spots a half drunk bottle of liquor on the side table.
“Mr Han… Mr Han!”
Han stops and looks at him.
“We not train today…” he says and staggers drunkenly.
'What are you doing?'
You can see the confusion in Dre’s face. Outside of Kung Fu, the renovation of this car was Han’s only hobby. He had spent hours, days even, carefully reconstructing it - and now he was just wrecking it?
"Its June 8th…" he replies, staring into nothingness.
Han drops the hammer slowly walks over and slumps himself down into the drivers seat.
Dre, worried and confused, approaches the car tentatively.
He notices a newspaper clipping lying on the crushed bonnet, covered in shards of glass.
Although he can’t read the Chinese - the pictures are clear. Two small photos of a woman and a little boy, a larger photo above shows a smashed up car. It dawns on him - it’s the same car that Han has been fixing up all this time.
Dre slowly goes over and gets into the passenger seat.
There is a moment of silence until he finally speaks up.
“Why did you break the car?'
Han slowly reaches forward and takes a photo out of the glove compartment. He holds it up - it’s of the same woman and boy standing next to each other smiling.
"His name was Kang-Gun. Xiao Dre, how old are you?"
Han’s voice cracks. "He was ten… He was so beautiful…"
He hands Dre the photo as he continues.
"…Her name was Chun. She was a singer. Not professional… She sang only for me."
Fighting back the tears, Han recites a few lines that she used to sing.
Dre reaches forward and picks up more pictures from the glove compartment as Han falls silent again.
He looks through the various photos - all of Han's son and wife.
"What happened?" Dre asks.
Han lets out a pained sigh.
"It was a steep hill. Lots of rain. The car just…. I was driving. We argued about something. I was so angry… I lost control. I tried to remember…. I cannot remember what we argued about. I hope it was something important. Every year I fix the car… still fix nothing…"
He breaks down into tears uncontrollably, his head dropping down as he rests his arms on the wheel.
Dre looks on in silence as the awful truth dawns on him. Han fixes up the car every year just to smash it up again on the anniversary of his family’s death. Who knows how long this had been going on for? ...How long he had been torturing himself in this way.
A single tear rolls down his cheek. This man who he thought had all the answers was now slumped beside him, broken and utterly defeated.
He gets out the car, leaving Han there, sobbing.
As we continue to see him cry two little training nooses come in to the car, each one gently hooking onto each of the old man’s hands. At first, Han is confused, but allows Dre to slowly lead him out of the car and onto his feet.
Dre leads him out into the courtyard, the light from the car's headlights casting their shadows onto the opposite wall.
Mimicking Han's earlier training method, Dre shakes the stick motioning for Han to get ready. Drying his eyes, Han readies himself as they both get into position.
They start the training exercise – just like they has done countless times before, but now with a renewed passion and sense of purpose. The shadows on the wall dance as the music swells triumphantly, recalling the magical sense of wonder felt at the puppet show they had watched earlier at the festival.
As they continue their training, unbeknownst to them, Dre's mother has come in looking for Dre. Peering into the courtyard, she sees the shadows of the two on the wall and a smile filled with loving pride spreads across her face.
17 May 2012