The Karate Kid
Directed by Harald Zwart
Starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Wenwen Han, Rongguang Yu, and Zhenwei Wang.
When I first heard that they were doing a Karate Kid remake, I reacted that such a thing venture dangerously into “raping my childhood” territory. I mean, it’s fully ingrained in the pop culture history of any child of the 1980s. When I heard that Will Smith was on board as a producer, so he could make it a star-making film for his son, I had more doubts. When I heard that the movie was taking place in China but still called “The Karate Kid,” I was among those who pointed out that Kung Fu is primary martial art of China, and Karate is Japanese. But, the film still came together, and, like all remakes of things from my childhood, I was mildly curious.
12 year-old Dre Parker is a kid out of his element. His mom just got transferred, and he’s been forced to move from his home in Detroit all the way across the world to Beijing. As is the case with all new kids in a new setting, he quickly becomes the object of the neighborhood bullies, who are all well-versed in kung fu and take great pleasure in practicing their skills on young Dre. But then, after one particularly brutal beating, Dre is saved by Mr. Han, the maintenance man at his apartment building. Mr. Han reveals himself to be a kung fu master, and Dre pleads with Mr. Han to teach him kung fu so he can meet the bullies on equal footing. Mr. Han reluctantly agrees, and as the Dre learns kung fu, he helps Mr. Han battle his own personal demons. Will Dre finally develop the skills to beat the bullies at the big kung fu tournament? And why does Mr. Han keep a car in his living room?
What I Liked
This film looks absolutely beautiful. Filmed mostly on location in China, there’s lots of gorgeous Chinese scenery on display. Another thing I liked over the original is that the characters of the mother and the girlfriend have more to do. In the original, the mother kind of disappeared once Mr. Miyagi showed up, but in the new one, the mom takes an active interest in her son’s new hobby and goes out of her way to befriend Mr. Han. The girlfriend also has her own big competition that she’s training for, and Dre helps her out. And, as is the case with all things like this, I did pick up on all the subtle references to the original, and they made me smile.
What I Didn’t Like
With the age of the main character being reduced from around 17 to 12, the fights and the bullying just come across as way more brutal than in the original. And, having grown up with the original, the plot doesn’t deviate too far from the original, and thus offers very little new.
It offers just enough new stuff to make it fun and enjoyable on its own merits. It still warm and fuzzy enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy.