Title: The Karate Kid (2010)
Director: Harald Zwart
Cast: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith
When I first heard about this remake I was a bit reluctant in accepting the idea. Isn’t that the expected reaction when a film you love is about to get the remake treatment? But, in spite of all the hatred remakes get, I always give them the benefit of the doubt, because who knows, it might turn out to be one of the good ones. For this remake, they gave the role of the karate kid to Jaden Smith, Will Smith’s kid. The young actor has proven himself to be something of a wunderkind, showing his acting chops on various films like The Pursuit of Happiness (2006) in which he acted side by side with his father in more than one tear jerking scene. He also appeared in The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) a science fiction film in which Jaden Smith got to act alongside Keanu Reeves and a lot of CGI effects. Impressive resume this kid is building for himself. But, his mom and dad are both actors, Will Smith being one of the biggest stars on the planet, so maybe the Jaden Smith is more of a damn lucky kid than a great actor, but hey, the kid has got one foot in the door and has been brought up in the filmmaking business. By now, the kid must know his way around a film set, and he’s obviously being coached by his dad in the acting business, so who knows, this kid just might be the next big star. He knows it too and he is taking the ride, cant say I blame him. With the help of mom and dad of course; both of whom produced this film as a starring vehicle for their son. So, how did this Karate Kid compare to its 1984 counterpart?
For those of you who never got to see the original Karate Kid with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, this film tells the tale of young Daniel Larusso, a 17 year old teenager who lives with his working mom. They just moved into a new home and Daniel is having a hard time adapting to the place. He tries going out with a girl, but some bullies from a local karate school don’t allow him to, so he decides to take Karate lessons from his Japanese landlord, Mr. Miyagi. This new film changes things around a bit. This time, the titular Karate Kid is a 12 year old American boy who is suddenly forced to move to China with his mother. While there, he has a difficult time adapting to life in China, he doesn’t know the language, he has no friends, he doesn’t know Karate. When the bullies in town don’t like it that he is hitting on a Chinese girl, they beat him up and tell him to stay away. So, same as in the original film, Dre decides to let his landlord, a Chinese man named Mr. Han, teach him the secrets of Kung Fu. Will, Dre ever adapt to life in china? Will Dre be able to face his fears and conquer them?
As was expected, there are a few differences between this new film and the original. The main one being that the Karate Kid doesn’t actually learn karate in the film, he actually learns Kung Fu. The title of the film actually shows an amount of ignorance on the filmmakers, because there is a distinctive difference between Karate and Kung Fu. Karate comes from Japan and Kung Fu comes from China. And they are both different in techniques and nature. I’m sure the filmmakers knew about his difference, but chose to ignore it. Well, at least in the films North American release they did; In Asian countries this film was released under the more appropriate title “The Kung-Fu Kid”. In the film, Dre’s mother addresses this issue and says “Karate, Kung-Fu, whatever!” And that’s as much importance as the filmmakers decided to give the matter in the film. I guess they thought Americans would not know the difference between Karate and Kung Fu and decided to not make that big of a deal about it. Bad move on their side I say. I would have actually preferred the title “The Kung Fu Kid”. But whatever. I guess they wanted American audiences to connect with this new film by the nostalgia they have for the old one. Still, it makes the films producers look really stupid.
But whatever; on to the movie itself. So the changes between this and the original go as follows:
-Tha Karate Kid changed names from Daniel Larusso to Dre Parker.
-The Karate Kid changes ethnicities. This time around he is black.
-The Karate Kid is not 17, but 12 years old.
-The Karate Kid and his mom move to China.
-Mr. Miyagi is now called “Mr. Han”, and is played by Jackie Chan. He isn’t from Okinawa, Japan like in the original film. On this film Mr. Han is Chinese.
-We go from “wax-on, wax-off” to “jacket on, jacket off”
-The final kick is slightly different.
So with these differences aside, the remake is essentially the same film, step by step. Which can get kind of boring if you have seen the original Karate Kid a gazillion times, like I had. I knew everything that was going to happen every step of the way, so in that way, the movie might turn out to be a bit redundant for some viewers. But this new Karate Kid does have a couple of good things going for it. Number one, I think this is one of Jackie Chan’s best performances ever. One slight change that they made on the Mr. Miyagi character is that he is no longer a war veteran, this time around he lost his entire family in a car accident, so he gets drunk and angry every day the same year. One scene has Jackie Chan crying his heart out because he remembers his family, and he can’t deal with the loss. That scene has got to be Jackie Chan’s best bit of acting ever! It also proves to be one of the most touching moments in the film, because Dre decides to help him forget about his pain by asking Mr. Han to train him more. Jaden Smith ends up being likable in his role and actually lives up to the word “kid” in the title, unfortunately when compared to Daniel Larusso, Dre comes off as too cocky, what I liked about the original character kid was his vulnerability and humility towards Mr. Miyagi, on this one Dre comes off more as an angry kid. It certainly isn't the same Karate Kid we saw on the original film, Dre has his own personality.
The issue of age is something that has formed a bit of a debate. On the original one Daniel was 17 and on this one, Dre is 12. On the original Daniel gets in trouble because he wants to go out with a girl who hangs out with a bunch of karate students. He has to deal with these bullies who use karate in a negative way. Which sounds like something that might happen to a 17 year old. But on this new film, Jaden Smith’s Dre is only 12. and he falls in love with a young Chinese girl. Some people feel that he might be too young for that sort of thing. The violence between the bullies and Dre, who are about the same age has been criticized as well. Some think that the violence is too harsh for kids of their age. I say, kids fall in love at a very young age, and bullies will always exist. Especially when you are around the age of 12. So about the age debate, I don’t think it’s even relevant. This is the Karate “kid” we are talking about here. Dealing with bullies and discovering girls go with the territory at that age.
The one thing that I enjoyed the most about this new film is that it has heart and emotion. It doesn’t cheapen the film by turning it into an action film or relying on a bunch of wire fu or gee whiz special effects. Nope, this film is about people, and a story, and emotions and overcoming ones fears, which was great. A breath of fresh air, a break from all the freaking CGI that plagues every single movie you see nowadays. I also enjoyed the fact that it was actually shot in China. The locations, the actors, the exteriors all give the film an authenticity that could not have been achieved had they not shot it in China. I mean, you can just tell when a location is being faked with CGI or matte paintings, but this time around, it looks genuine because it is. This time around, the Karate Kid trains on the spectacular Walls of China! He visits a bonafide Shaolin freaking temple in the middle of the mountains! He visits The Forbidden Temple, I mean; all these exotic locations simply help make the films look all the more spectacular and grand. In this way, I say this film tops the original. My last thoughts on the film: for those of you who have never watched the original Karate Kid films, this should be an endearing, heartfelt movie. For those of you who have seen the original, even though its similar in many ways to the original, it still has many good things about it, and a few surprises. It should still be an entertaining watch none the less.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5