Starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan
Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan
Directed By Harald Zwart
The mere idea of doing a remake to any beloved movie takes a lot of balls. A lot has to go right, and usually doesn’t. So, take an unknown quantity in Jaden Smith, seen to many as being given the film by his parents like a child gets a Christmas present. (Trust me, it isn’t as easy as that. The studios funding the film has the last say on that) Also take one Jackie Chan, whose last US films have been dreadful (not because of him), and add one director whose last two films were Agent Cody Banks and the Pink Panther 2, and you have the makings of a disaster of Ishtar-sized proportions. Not only did the disaster not occur, but a rather successful update of a somewhat classic film.
The film starts as Dre Parker(Smith), a 12-year-old from Detroit, travels to Beijing with his Mom, who has been transferred there from her car company. (What kind of mid level job does that? Hell, sign me up for that one!). No sooner has Dre arrives than he meets the girl of his dreams, and the repairman of his apartment, a grouchy man named Mr. Han (Chan). Now back to that girl of his dreams bit. She plays the violin in the park when he meets her, and tries to impress her with dance moves, but that sort of thing evidently can get your ass kicked by the local boys, and one in particular, named Cheng, who looks like a future martial arts villain in the making. They start to abuse Dre, and the beatings he takes are far more brutal than anything Daniel Laruso went through in his version, and even tries to learn Karate on videotape, and is beaten up miserably again, and seeks out the Red Dragon Dojo to learn Kung-Fu, but finds that Cheng studies there, and soon Dre simply wants to go home, as taking multiple beatings daily just isn’t really cool. He is soon helped by Mr. Han, who agrees to teach him Kung-Fu in a scene where the dialogue is taken almost word for word from the original, and soon Dre is in training, and learns to become a better person just as Mr. Han learns to care again. The film culminates in a tournament fight where they put it all on the line. Guess who wins?
The films walks a line that really is a Catch-22: stick to the story, and everyone will criticize the need to remake it anyway. Stray too far away from the original and people go “so why call it Karate Kid?” (Note the film is only called the Karate Kid here, and is called the Kung-Fu Kid internationally except for Japan where it is called Best Kid.). The film makers probably did the best thing they could by keeping the story beats the same, but changing around the character, situations, etc. Jaden does a pretty good job as Dre, acting, well, like any 12 year-old you’ve ever met. His fight and training scenes are well done, but as he lived with Jackie Chan for a year to train with him, he damn well better be good, and is. Jackie Chan does a great job giving an understated performance as Mr. Han, a lonely man whose soul you can tell is in dark place, but trains Dre for reasons explored later in the film. The other actors acquit themselves okay, but none are given much to do . Master Yi isn’t as memorable as Martin Cove’s Kreese, but isn’t meant to be. In fact, the film rests with Smith and Chan and the relationship they forge together, and they both do a pretty good job, although Chan holds the scenes together more than Jaden.
The fight scenes are well done, as I suspected they would be. The camera moves around a bit too much during the tournament scenes, but are well staged other than that. Jackie’s one and only fight in the film gives the film a jolt of energy at just the right moment, and I think it gives the audience a warm feeling at the return of an old friend. The fight looks more like some of his 90’s film fights, but as he is playing a sightly older character, he keeps his movements at a premium.
The Karate Kid is a remake that does the job of retelling the story with a quality job by all involved, a rousing and fun film that shows the friendship between two people who turn out to need each other far more than they think. Whether you enjoy it or not depends on how married you are to the original. If you can separate the two, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Choreography: (8) Good fight scenes crafted for the boys by Jackie Chan, and a good fight midway between Chan and the bad boys. The tournament fights were kinetic and fun, and I wish the camera would’ve stayed still a bit longer.
Stuntwork: (9) Holy crap. I didn’t have high expectations for this, but these kids must be trying out for Jackie Chan’s junior stunt team. They take brutal looking hits and spins, and fall just as the adults would. Even Jaden does a great job here selling his many, many abuses.
Star Power: (8) Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, one star who is winding down while another is coming up. In what form Jaden’s career will take remains to be seen since Jackie has offered to train him in Kung-Fu for the next 3 years, and since the film is already a success he’ll be training with Chan again, no doubt. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see some of the fighters in the tournament turn up in other things in the next 10 years or so. Maybe one of them can be the next big Martial arts star? Hey, it happened for Chan.
Final Grade: (8) Jackie Chan returns to form for the first time in a U.S. film, and they succeed in remaking a film that may or may not have needed it. The Karate Kid is a lot of fun for the entire family, and especially for future martial artists…