Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

July 26, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

The biggest problem with the 2010 “remake” The Karate Kid is that it’s called “The Karate Kid.”

It so shouldn’t be, and it’s the sole reason that I didn’t watch the film any earlier.  (Okay, that’s a lie.  I also thought the film was a shameless “star” vehicle for Jaden Smith, Will Smith’s kid, as adorable as he was in The Pursuit of Happyness.)

Calling The Karate Kid “The Karate Kid” is misleading because the 2010 film has nothing to do with the classic franchise with Ralph Macchio as Daniel-san and Pat Morita as Mr Miyagi.  It’s not a real remake.  For starters, it’s not even karate (it’s Kung Fu!).  It also happens to be set in China.  Sure, it borrows from the goodwill of the 1984 original and allows them to throw in a few homages to some of the more memorable scenes between Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi, but I think it does a disservice to both the original and the new film to use the same name.  They should have gone with “The Kung Fu Kid” or something like that.

Anyway, as surprised as I am to say it, the 2010 “remake” is actually pretty decent.

Jaden Smith is Dre Parker, as 12 year old kid who moves with his mother (Taraji P Henson) to Beijing, China for some reason.  And of course, he’s not liked by the local kids who all turn out to be little kung fu warriors.  But fear not — enter Jackie Chan as the building maintenance man, Mr Han, who also happens to be a master of kung fu.  So begins little Dre’s transformation from bullied foreigner to kung fu hero.

If the plot sounds formulaic, that’s because it is.  But having said that, The Karate Kid still has a fair bit of heart.  It’s targeted at a younger audience and I think they’ve hit the mark — it has an underdog story, it’s fairly entertaining, lightly amusing, and there’s a good message hidden in there somewhere.  It’s way too long at around 140 minutes, but to be honest I didn’t find it boring.  The kiddy fight scenes were done very well, and most of it looks pretty legit.

Little Jaden is growing up quickly and he’s adequate as Dre.  I heard some bad reviews about his acting but he’s not that bad.  The cute kid routine no longer works but you can tell he works hard, just like his old man.  (He also looks a lot like him from the nose up, as evidenced from an early scene where you only get to see half his face in a van.)

The thing with Jackie Chan is that you always know what you’re going to get.  Charismatic, good jokes, nicely choreographed fight scenes, and the ability to pull the heart strings when necessary.  He’s clearly getting on in age but can still kick some butt when he has to.

The Karate Kid should never be considered a replacement for the original for the new generation of kids who like to pretend they know how to fight.  But still, it’s not a bad film, especially for younger kids.  Maybe they’ll find it easier to relate to a genuine 12-year-old in Jaden Smith rather than a 30-year-old Ralph Macchio playing a 16-year-old (okay, he wasn’t that old…maybe like 23).

3 stars out of 5

[PS: apparently in China it’s called The Kung Fu Dream and several minutes of the film that makes China “look bad” has been cut!]