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April 1, 2011

Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

Remaking a classic would seem to be an impossible task. None of the recent horror movie remakes worked. Planet of the Apes was okay, but the message of the original was lost. You might not call the original Karate Kid a classic, but for anyone in my generation, it's an important part of our youth. It's a movie that gives the underdog hope, and it has a great message about never giving up. When I heard about the remake and Will Smith making this a vehicle for his son, I was expecting garbage. I got just the opposite.

Buy The Karate Kid DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Combo

The story focuses on twelve-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother as they move from Detroit to Beijing for mom's job. We learn early that Dre's father died a short while before the move, though it's never discussed. As you would expect, Dre has a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings, especially since he doesn't speak Chinese. I feel like you know the rest of the story, but I'll continue anyway.

Dre catches the eye of a young violinist named Meiying. When he gets the courage to talk to her, Cheng, the local bully, steps in and destroys Dre in a fight. As Dre tries to learn kung fu from a video, maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) comes up to fix an issue with the hot water. Eventually, he tries to help Dre with his bully problem and ends up entering him in a big kung fu tournament. Mr. Han trains Dre using unorthodox methods, and we know the rest.

I haven't seen the original Karate Kid in awhile, but I've seen it so many times that I could probably recite the dialogue while I watch it. While I watched the new version, I gave it a fair chance. It impressed me in many ways. It was respectful to its predecessor. I know that sounds funny, but this was almost done with a loving respect for the original. There were many lines taken straight out of the original film, which was great. The framework was the same, and many scenes were almost recreated. Cheng was a great replacement for Johnny, and Master Li is an excellent mirror for John Kreese.

The fish out of water situation was much more extreme. It's one thing to move from one town to another, but from one country to another would be an enormous adjustment. The lead characters were also quite a bit younger than their counterparts. It's easier for a seventeen-year-old to handle change than it is for a twelve-year-old. The younger Mr. Han was also more emotionally vulnerable. Mr. Miyagi was great, but he was a little bit of a caricature of many characters that existed in the 1970s kung fu grindhouse flicks. Since the stars were kids, the love story had a cute innocence to it, and reminded me what it was like to have a childhood crush.

Jackie Chan was great in this movie. He was gruff, but very fatherly. He didn't want to deal with this kid, but he couldn't leave him hanging. Jaden Smith was also great. I shouldn't have been surprised by this. His parents are both good actors. Talent can be genetic. He was good when it came to both comedy and drama. The relationship between Dre and Han was genuine, and while Daniel learned from Miyagi, Dre and Han learned from each other. My only issue in the entire movie was with about three seconds during the tournament. You'll know it when you see it. Other than that, the movie really held me from start to finish.

People complained about the title, since karate is Japanese and the movie is in China, but that's a minor issue. You get all of the greatest elements from the original. You get the love story, a silly innuendo line ("wax on, wax off" in the original and "jacket on, jacket off" in the remake. Go ahead, say it out loud.), the "sweep the leg" moment, and even the great show of respect at the end. You also get beautiful scenery, great acting and emotional involvement in the characters. There's even a brilliant scene in the movie between Dre and Han that might draw a few tears out of you.

Here it is. I'm going to say it. This movie is better than the original. Call me a blasphemer if you want, but it's true. Granted, it wouldn't be what it is without the foundation that was laid in 1984, but this movie stands out as the only remake I've ever seen that improved the story. That's a feat worth watching.

1 comment:

  1. I love the title of your blog and I really loved the dramatic scene when Dre discovers that Mr. Han’s family died in a car accident many years ago. Jackie does a great job of acting in this scene. It’s hard to believe that when he started in American movies he couldn’t speak any English, learning his lines by route not even knowing what he was saying. Even though I work for DISH Network I didn’t realize they have something called a Sling adapter until I was looking for some comparisons of providers because I thought my fees were getting a little high. That’s when I stumbled onto which showed me the Sling could solve my problem of my wife being upset I spend more time watching TV than with her and the kids at home. Now I have the Sling adapter and a happy wife.