I love The Karate Kid. To me it is, quite possibly, the perfect sports AND coming-of-age film put together. It’s like mixing The Mighty Ducks, Sixteen Candles and Rumble in the Bronx. Well, not quite but it’s still an amazing movie. Then I learned that in Hollywood’s infinite wisdom the call was made to remake it with Will Smith’s kid. Like everyone else, I scoffed. I mean, how can you possibly try to match the original? After much struggling, I knew I had to see it. I mean, I could hate the idea but I had to give the movie a fair chance. So with caution I sat down and watched the remake of The Karate Kid.
The movie follows Dre (Jaden Smith), a hip young American who is forced to move from Detroit to China. Despite a budding romance with with classmate Mei Ying, the cultural differences are just too much. Especially when the romance makes an enemy of bully local Cheng. With nobody else to turn to, he confides in his building’s handyman, Mr. Han. A master of kung fu, Han teaches young Dre about not just martial arts but life.
Sound similar? Well obviously it should since it’s a remake. Nevertheless, there are quite a few changes. It’s similar enough to be a continuation yet different enough to stand on its own. Quite frankly, a smart move to get fans of both the original and anew.
The biggest change, in my opinion, is the change of scenery. It may seem like a little thing but it actually adds quite a bit. The use of China makes for some absolutely amazing set pieces. Not just that but it really helps show the isolation that Dre feels in a way that the original just couldn’t convey. From the background to general cultural differences, it’s amazing how such a random detail could make such a impact in the story.
I also really enjoyed Jackie Chan as Mr. Han. Heck, he’s even better than Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. Before you boo me out the building, let me explain. What Han did, unlike Miyagi, was explain the art of kung fu to Dre. He didn’t just show Dre how to do the moves but also explained how they worked and the philosophy behind it. As a martial arts fan, this is greatly appreciated. Not only that but his back story is fleshed out much more. You really get a sense why he’s a loner and feel for him. But ignoring all of that, lets face it. If you want to learn martial arts would you rather be trained by the world-famous action star or Arnold from Happy Days?
Unfortunately there are negatives in this otherwise fine movie. One in particular, for me, was Jaden Smith as Dre. It’s not that he does a bad job acting wise. In fact, he does a decent enough job. I just found it hard to get into him as the lead. Throughout the movie he just seemed unlikable. Sure Daniel-San could be a jerk. Heck, that seemed to be his sole purpose in Part 3. But Daniel LaRusso always felt like a good-hearted kid at the end of the day. Dre was just a bratty jerk kid. I’m sure it’s just cause of his age but it just got to me. Not only that but I just found it hard for Jaden Smith to carry a movie on his own. His acting is fine but not great and his screen presence just didn’t scream “HEADLINER”. In a few years he could be a star but it just isn’t his time yet.
Another issue I have is the length of the movie. I mean, the original (which got all it could in its time as it is) is 126 minutes. The new version is 140 minutes. It doesn’t add much either, it’s just paced slower. If this were an art film or serious drama, it’d be acceptable. But in a relatively simple family film, it’s a downgrade for the most part.
As I said, I love the original Karate Kid. So you can imagine my surprise coming out of this experience positively. No doubt that there are faults throughout the movie. Despite these though, we get a competently made movie with one of Jackie Chan’s best performances in years. In the sea of useless remakes the spawn yearly, it was nice to get one that came so close to living up to its source material.
PS- Justin Bieber, I understand you’re a kid following your dreams but you’re nowhere near as cool as Joe Esposito.