When one thinks of the words “remake” or “reboot”, they generally think that we’re in for a ride towards a downward spiral. However, the long awaited remake of the 1984 action-drama The Karate Kid is just living proof that not all remakes are bad.
When Sherry Parker is transferred from Detroit to Beijing, China, for work, she takes her 12-year old son Dre with her. At first, Dre is unsure about his new home. However, he meets Meiying, a young violinist and student. Dre feels a sudden attraction towards her. However, he soon finds himself an enemy in local bully Cheng. Cheng is an expert in kung fu and nearly takes out Dre.
As Dre dreams to learn kung fu, he finds a local school run by Coach Li. However, upon learning that Cheng is one of the students, Dre decides that he wants to go home. As Cheng and his friends constantly pick on Dre, Dre finds an unexpected ally in Mr. Han, the maintenance man at his apartment building.
When Han and Dre confront Cheng and Coach Li, Han decides that the two kids will settle their score at the local tournament in one month’s time. Promising that Cheng and his friends will not touch Dre until then, Li gives Han face. Han decides that the only way Dre will succeed is to stand up for himself. Han decides to teach Dre the art of kung fu.
For those who have seen the original 1984 film with Ralph Macchio and the late Pat Morita, you know where the film leads. However, there does stand out some interesting differences. Notably, instead of “wax on-wax off”, there is a defensive move involving Dre taking off his jacket. In a fascinating scene, Han and Dre go to the Wudang Mountains where Han was a student. Dre sees a woman trying to somewhat fend of a cobra by using the Crane Style of kung fu, a nod to the famous “crane kick” of the original.
For his lead star debut, Jaden Smith does well for a brash cocky 12-year old who tries to get attention by bragging only to learn some life lessons himself as he studies kung fu from Mr. Han. The relationship between Dre and Mr. Han is definitely like that of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi in the original film. However, Mr. Han’s backstory is quite an upgrade from Miyagi’s war torn past. As Mr. Han, it is clear that this is Jackie Chan’s best Hollywood performance ever. Definitely going the route from his drama SHINJUKU INCIDENT (2009), Chan is more than happy now to do not just his typical action film that everyone expects, but be able to handle the dramatic side very well as he does here.
Under the supervision of Jackie Chan Stunt Team leader Wu Gang, Smith, who has already studied martial arts, gets to showcase what a film fighter he is. Should he continue to practice, we may see a future action hero in the long run when Smith becomes an adult. The same goes for Wang Zhenwei, who without a doubt impresses as bully Cheng. The 15-year old Wang is quick and agile. We could be looking at the next Jet Li or Wu Jing after seeing him in this film.
While some complained of the long running time of 138 minutes, it all makes sense in a way. The film blends action, the mother-son relationship, the student-teacher relationship, and the puppy love romance angles very well and strong. That is why The Karate Kid is definitely one of the best remakes to come out. If you haven’t seen it, doesn’t matter if you like martial arts or not, you need to see it.
WFG RATING: B+
Columbia Pictures presents an Overbrook Entertainment production in association with China Film Group and Jerry Weintraub Productions. Director: Harald Zwart. Producers: James Lassiter, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ken Stovitz, and Jerry Weintraub. Writer: Christopher Murphey; based on the original 1984 film written by Robert Mark Kamen. Cinematography: Roger Pratt. Editing: Joel Negron.
Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Han Wenwen, Yu Rong Guang, Wu Zhensu, Wang Zhenwei, Wang Zhiheng, Jared Minns, Lu Shijia, Zhao Yi, Zhang Bo, Luke Carberry.