As far as remakes go this new version of The Karate Kid is a rather decent adaptation for a new generation and a brilliant career move for an upcoming action star and one who is certainly past his prime. Generally speaking, there is rarely a good reason to make a remake of any movie, particularly classics like The Karate Kid. If you watch the 80s coming of age teen flick it is still as effective and good a film as it was when it first came out. The story is pretty much universal; a teenager learns to face his demons (a bully at school) and is rewarded (by getting the girl). We have all seen countless of similar movies. So why remake this classic film? Obviously studios had economic reasons to do so. But it seems there were other reasons for the actor’s involvement besides cashing in a check, and that actually elevates The Karate Kid from a been-there-seen-that summer rehash to a personal film.
For Jaden Smith, who we already saw along side his father in The Pursuit of Happiness, this film launches him into the public as a tween who means business. In this Disney tween-drone filled age Jaden Smith proves he can take a beating, deliver a good punch and kick Zac Effron’s (or any Disney tween) ass any day of the week while blind folded, both in and outside film. The kid is filled with energy and that translates onto the screen making his character, Dre, a believable middle-schooler. This is the type of kid you want to see in movies; the kind you wanted to be when you were a kid.
The film begins with Dre and his mom moving to Beijing. Dre reacts like all kids his age, hating the idea. The fact that he does not speak the language and that he gets bullied at school (a black kid in China is identifiable a mile away) doesn't really help. Nevertheless he quickly makes friends with the cute Mei, one of those curious nice girls that does not mind talking to the new kid on the block. Unfortunately Mei’s cousin is the pack leader of the bullies and she warns Dre, to stay away from all of them. Besides Mei, Dre also befriends his building's janitor Mr. Han, this generation’s Mr. Miyagui. It is roles like Mr. Han that Jackie Chan should begin to start focusing in if he wishes to revive his career.
Jackie Chan does a respectable job as the wise old Sensei. Last year a movie (which I did not see) came out where Jackie Chan played his old comedy action persona around little kids. Thankfully The Spy Next Door came and went without much talk, otherwise Mr. Chan would have made a huge fool of himself. He’s had a long career as the martial arts action star and it is time for him to pass his wisdom to someone else. If Jaden Smith has any of his father’s action genes in him, I don’t see why he shouldn’t grow into the next generations action star even if he is 10 years too young at the moment.
As far as the technical aspects of the film go The Karate Kid looks gorgeous; the backdrop of modern China helps in updating a remake for the new generation. China is pictured both as an exotic faraway place where Buddhist monks meditate atop cliffs and a modern middle-class oriented country where there are switches in the shower that help preserve energy and save the planet; all in beautiful photography. If there is anything to complain about, it might be that the fights are too real. How come they can be too real? Well when you have kids flying across school yards and the weight of the punch, the effect of the fall, and the reaction of the kid who got hit all seem real the fight also looks brutal to a point that no twelve year old kid should be able to survive it, let alone actually land punches like that. If they could you better stay away from any 12 year olds.
As I said, this movie is a decent remake. There was no reason to make it, but it is a good product nonetheless.