Review: ‘The Karate Kid’

Friday, June 11 by

The Karate Kid
PG, 140min., 2010
Cast: Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Rongguang Yu, and Jackie Chan
Directed by Harald Zwart
Screenplay by Christopher Murphy based upon the 1980s movie of the same name.
The Karate Kid is as epic as a kid’s movie can come, yet falls into the same pitfalls of most prequels/sequels/remakes.
As the overlong prologue begins, we meet 12-year-old Dre Parker of Detroit (Jaden Smith, a rail thin swagger type like his parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith) who with his Mom (the great and underused actress Taraji P. Henson) move to Beijing, China. Once they arrive, Dre makes new enemies with a bullying martial arts gang, gets beaten to a pulp on the school’s  playground, meets his first girlfriend, and learns the art of Kung-Fu by way of the local hermit Mr. Han (Jackie Chan in surprisingly great dramatic role).

More after the jump…

Ironically nobody got the memo about changing the title of the movie, since Smith is learning kung-fu, an ancient Chinese martial art and karate is a Japanese one.
The story is the same as the 1984 classic, only brighter, more expensive, and more exotic with the Great Walls of mainland China replacing the beaches of Southern California, where the kids are younger and more innocent, but five times deadlier than before, and some of the action scenes are quite tense and believable.
While most of the movie is pure bubble gum and gears towards kids 13 and under (the movies theme song is sung by Jaden Smith and the ever annoying Justin Bieber), the now grown adults who remember the original might get a sly kick out of seeing a series of nods to it. The best is the new Cobra Kai leader being played by Rongguang Yu of Iron Monkey fame.
Chan’s performance as Mr. Han holds the movie together. Through all of its sweeping shots of China and kid training montages, he gives a quiet and powerful performance that in one moment really tugs at your heart – it’s always tough to see a favorite action hero cry.  This may come as a surprise to many stateside audiences as we’ve seen him do more of his comedic action stick, but in the Hong Kong cinema he has played all types of characters. Chan is an actor who shows that he can be as dramatic as he is glowingly funny.
If this movie was a little more serious and adult-themed like the original, Chan would be looking at a possible nomination like Pat Morita before him.
The Karate Kid works for those kids who couldn’t get into Kick-Ass because of it’s R-rating, but for the rest of audience – unless you have a soft spot for Chan – you’ll be knocked into another seen-it-before remake.
Grade: C

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