6/18/10

Review: The Karate Kid (2010)


Jaden Smith's The Karate Kid (2010), not to be confused with John G. Avildsen's great 1984 film of the same name--though they have about the same script--is pretty good. Nothing much new, but pretty good.

Sure, the screenplay is almost a total retread, or a reworking of elements from the earlier first film and its first sequel (set in Okinawa), with a few scenes adapted from Kung Fu Panda thrown in for fun, but Jaden Smith as Dre Parker in the Ralph Macchio role and Jackie Chan as Mr. Han in the Pat Morita role from the original turn out to have enough dedication, humor and charisma to make it pretty sufferable.

And yet, for all its similarities to its classic namesake, this Karate Kid does have a few story differences which do give it a different shape and arc, and make it a different enough journey, to be worthwhile for a casual viewing.

What's familiar from the original is Dre Parker (Smith) and his mother (Taraji P. Henson, good) pulling up stakes for brighter prospects in a new town, just like Daniel and his mother.

But for the Parkers, the town is not on the Southern California beach with lots of blondes having more fun, but is instead the teeming metropolis of Beijing, with language barriers, a heightened sense of alienation and more difficulty making the transition to the Chinese setting from Detroit than Daniel had with his move from Jersey to Cali in '84.

That Dre is so cut off from his old life and comfort zone, and immediately encounters seriously dangerous bullying from martial artists he seems to meet everywhere he goes, or turns, gives the film a different kind of urgency from that which Daniel-san confronted. The new bullies really are relentless, while the bullies in the original were scarier and made more sense.

Zhenwei Wang as Cheng, the kid bully who bullies Dre, has a lot of charisma as well, though his kung fu studio doesn't really. Yet Wang still manages to create a semi-believable character to oppose Dre's super-nice nice guy. The hero and the villain come across as kids who lack maturity and need to find some more, and that's a satisfying enough conflict here. Scenes with Dre and Han are less heartwarming and surprising than those between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, and the training sequences are less clever and even get boring, but they mostly serve. Henson and Smith have a pretty strong mother-son dynamic.

Not destined to be any kind of classic itself, it is better than The Karate Kid, Part III and the beyond-cheesy attempted reboot/last gasp of the original series The Next Karate Kid, with Hilary Swank and three visiting monks patterned after the Three Stooges. (Yes, I have seen them all, in movie theaters, but I'm only proud of that in the most cantankerous and rueful possible way.) (I'm whistling "Glory of Love" right now.) ("I am the man / who will fight / fo' your honah...")

As I said about its fellow Eighties Remake Weekend movie The A-Team, if you want to see it, go for it. Many already have. Also like that one, this movie could have lost 15 or 20 minutes easily and gained overall. But Jaden Smith is very talented, one to watch, and Chan almost always is (except when one of his movies really isn't). I'd watch it again for free, maybe, once, not soon. Yeah, it should have been titled The Kung Fu Kid, but that sounds like it would be on the Disney Channel, so they probably got that right.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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