The original Karate Kid is one of those movies, you know the kind, not particularly brilliant but memorable and special in an unexplainable way. Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi are once in a generation characters that transcend their medium to become pop-culture legends. While the sequels diminished the originals power it remains to this day unbeaten as the template for coming of age dramas set against a sporting background. The remake therefore has a lot to live up to.
Dre Parker was just your regular 12-year-old kid growing up in Detroit, hanging with his friends and just being one of the gang. That is until his mother’s career takes the two of them to China, his life becomes a little more complicated. Now alienated from his home he has become an outsider and this new culture is not entirely to his liking. Although there is a bright spot in the shape of classmate Mei Ying, who seems to like him too. Before anything can blossom between the pair the class bully picks a fight, and Dre despite having learned some karate in the States promptly gets his ass kicked. Enter Mr. Han, a ordinary looking maintenance man who takes Dre under his wing and teaches him the ways of kung fu. But as Dre will come to learn kung fu is not just about punching and kicking it’s a whole new way of life.
Jaden Smith is definitely his father’s son, if not quite as at ease on camera as his dad. He equates himself well as a moody kid and his plight is actually believably. He also shows some skills in the fight and training sequences throwing arms and legs around with aplomb and looking like a mean little fighting machine. the hero of the movie is Jackie Chan, playing a straight character for once. He is charming, self-depreciating and having an inner strength and calm that gives his character depth and warmth. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to the clichéd Asian action man roles he’s usually lumbered with. Han Wenwen as Mei-Ying is graceful in a limited role, while Wang Zhenwei as the bully Cheng gives the right air of threat and menace. As does his mentor Li, played by Yu Rongguang Yu, who is just plain evil.
The script isn’t up to much, everyone is inexplicably able to speak English and the whole movie is just a set-up for the final climatic showdown. The cinematography on the other hand is stunning. The movie almost feels like a tourism commercial for China with stunning landscapes and sweeping views of Beijing and the Great Wall. Even a training sequence set on the wall manages to look great, whilst being remarkably unnecessary. James Horner’s score gets misused and the running time is a bit long, but the strength of Smith and Chan’s performances mean that once we get to that final battle we are invested in the characters plight even despite our best intentions.
At the end of the day the movie is an enjoyable, fun family film. It’s not a classic, but it doesn’t sully the original either. Go, sit back and let it wash over you. You’ll have a good time.