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The original Karate Kid film is one of the most iconic films of the 1980s. Even though this remake has its moments, some inconsistencies will prevent it from becoming a classic for the next generation.
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is a young boy who moves from Detroit to China because of his mother’s (Taraji P. Henson) job. There he meets a girl he likes named Meiying (Wenwen Han) who plays the violin. However, Dre starts getting bullied by some boys in the school. That’s when Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) steps into the picture. Even though he’s a maintenance man, he has a vast knowledge of kung fu and decides to teach Dre the fighting style. He also puts Dre into a fighting tournament so he can face his fears.
It’s hard to admit, but The Karate Kid is not a completely terrible film. In fact, it is actually pretty good. The performances, for the most part, work. The incredible Henson makes for a terrific mother figure, stealing all of the scenes she appears in. Of course, that’s nothing unusual: she received her first (and hopefully not last) Oscar nomination for playing a mother figure in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Although Chan doesn’t bring the same presence to the mentor figure as Pat Morita did to Mr. Miyagi, he worked surprisingly well in the role. He even pulled off his big dramatic scene flawlessly.
Smith is a mixed bag in his first leading role. On one hand, he has the potential to be a great actor in the vein of his Academy Award-nominated father, Will. With the actual acting, he gave a terrific performance. He was able to accurately portray a somewhat rebellious child, while also handling his dramatic scenes with ease. However, he is simply not old enough to play this character. Sure, this character is written to be twelve years old, but it just doesn’t work. This is perhaps why Ralph Macchio worked so well in the original film: because the characters were written to be teenagers. Even with the shortcomings, Smith’s effort in the film was a worthwhile one. Perhaps he should invest into doing some smaller parts in smaller films to develop his craft and then come back to the mainstream Hollywood scene.
Despite some good performances, the film has two glaring problems. One is that the film was meant to be a star vehicle for Smith. When the film was made, the concern wasn’t over whether it would be good or not. It wasn’t even about paying homage to the original film. It was about Smith having a breakthrough performance. The other big problem is the screenplay. Many of the scenarios feel derivative. Even though it’s a remake, there should be some differentiation and “freshness” to a film. Also, some of the scenes written for emotional effect, including one where Smith cries about wanting to go home, are ridiculously melodramatic.
All in all, The Karate Kid is a good film that teaches one to never give up and to always fight the good fight. However, problems with the script and a questionable choice in the lead actor make the film a mixed bag. It’s a harmless trip to the movies, but if you want to watch a classic, check out the original film with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.Rating: 6/10
The Karate Kid
Directed by Harald Zwart
Written by Christopher Murphey, Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson Other Player Affinity Reviews
Simon thought: “Perhaps more shocking than the fact that The Karate Kid remake is actually good, this hit summer film proves that Jackie Chan can indeed act, and well at that. Amidst the well-choreographed fight scenes, I sat dumb-faced at the soulful and sporadically heartbreaking delivery of his lines. One such scene where he meticulously repairs a car that links him to a tragedy in his past is truly moving. An excellent counterbalance to Chan is young Jaden Smith who brings the spunk and vulnerability we would expect from his character. Setting the film in China was a wise choice, as in addition to amplifying the underdog aura of Smith’s Dre Parker, the film is stunningly shot with care taken at every turn to immerse the audience in this foreign world. The expected show-downs are impressively presented, if over-blown at times, but this film is more a tale of friendship than a tradition sports, underdog template. Forget Shrek Forever After, this is a family film to see this summer.” Rating: 7/10
Dinah Thought: “A new generation has the opportunity to enjoy the cheesy wax on, wax off goodness that is Karate Kid. Jaden Smith, son of prolific actor Will Smith, makes his first entry in a starring role. His debut isn’t Oscar-worthy, but his comedic mannerisms are strongly and positively influenced by his father. The solid and endearing remake runs more than two hours long, preferring to develop subplots including a tween romance with a Chinese schoolmate, Instructor Han’s personal problems (played wonderfully by Jackie Chan), and the longest training montage on record. The physical acting (though implausible in the climax of the movie) was the highlight. The child actors and athletes certainly put as much energy into mastering their kung fu as memorizing their scripts.” Rating: 6/10
Kieran thought: “On paper The Karate Kid should have been completely awful: it is based on a popular film from the 1980s, it is directed by a man with an unimpressive record and produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith as a vehicle for their son to star in. But it is a surprisingly decent film. Harald Zwart is actually hard-hitting when directing the fight scenes and lets Jackie Chan do his thing. The bullying scenes were well handled, not holding back on the violence that the children inflict on the main character. The Karate Kid has villains you love to hate and shows two different approaches to kung fu. To top it off there is a brilliant cinematography (courtesy Roger Pratt) of the Beijing and the Wudang Mountains and a fitting score by James Horner. Chan shows some real acting talent and plays his role straight, even when he is meant to be funny. Jaden Smith tries to bring in his father’s mannerisms in a comic performance but he was actually stronger when he is more dramatic and he should consider doing an independent film as his next project. Despite The Karate Kid’s strengths it is way too long for a family film and 30 minutes could have easily have been cut. There were so many montages that it bordered on being a parody. Plus, the relationship between Smith and Wen Wen Han should have been about friendship, not romance: the dancing by a 12-year-old girl to the awful music of Lady Gaga was totally inappropriate. Finally, why is the film not just called The Kung-fu Kid?” Rating: 7/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 6.5/10