The Karate Kid
“The Karate Kid” may be that rare of example of a movie remake that actually surpasses the original. While I do not have much memory of the original, “The Karate Kid” (1984), I remember not caring for it. Granted that was 26 years ago and since then the film has become something of pop cultural touchstone. Be that as it may, I found the new “The Karate Kid” to be an enjoyable, funny, philosophical film nicely pitched to a kids’ audience. In fact the screening I attended had several families in attendance. Since there were so many kids I expected lots of talking and comments throughout the film but was surprised, not to mention grateful, to find that they watched the film with rapt attention, which maybe says more about the film than any review.
Jaden Smith (son of actor Will Smith) plays Dre Parker, a twelve-year-old boy whose mother’s job has just transferred her and Dre from Detroit to China. Dre tries to adapt to life in his new land only to run afoul of a local, Kung Fu trained, bully who, along with his Kung Fu teacher, are standard issue mean Kung Fu “bad” guys. However with the help of his apartment building’s handyman, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), Dre trains to hopefully distinguish himself at the big upcoming Kung Fu tournament where he will no doubt face his nemesis.
So, it’s the “good” Kung Fu guys (our heroes) versus the “bad” Kung Fu guys. Cue the training sequence. Granted, anyone who has ever seen a Hollywood movie will know where this is going but, as I’m sure Mr. Han would say, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Just as important, as a former screenwriting teacher of mine once advised, “Give the audience what they want but not in the way they expect it.” “The Karate Kid” adheres to both the former and the latter.
It was nice to see Jaden Smith in a good remake after having seen him in the awful, disastrous, “What were they thinking?” remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (2008). Smith proves to be a funny, charismatic lead and has a great rapport with Chan. Similarly it was nice to see Chan find a better vehicle for himself after the silly and debasing “The Spy Next Door” (2010).
Chan plays a world weary Kung Fu master who has seen better days and is now a janitor. Yes, there is more to Mr. Han than meets the eye. I can think of no better way to convey Mr. Han’s character than his first scene in which he demonstrates how to catch a pesky fly using a pair of chop sticks. It is unexpected, hilarious, and in one stroke tells us volumes about his character. In fact the whole story is told very efficiently, sketching in character details quickly and easily from the very first scene. The result is that we absorb character and story exposition effortlessly and are continuously engaged.
The idea of setting the story in China is a great way to “reboot” the franchise. It is also a terrific excuse to showcase this beautiful country while adding an appropriate and wonderful visual element to this “fish out of water” tale of an American kid who must grow, adapt, conquer fear and face challenges.
The Karate Kid, Director Harald Zwart, 2010,
Columbia Pictures, 140 minutes, rated PG