Saturday 24 July 2010


The new remake of the 80's classic The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan is having advanced preview screenings this weekend. I saw it ages ago, so just in case you aren't sure if it's worth checking out, here's my review again.
More after the jump...

13 year old Dre Parker moves to China with his mother. He doesn't know the culture, he doesn't know the language, he doesn't know anyone. Whilst trying to make some friends on the local basketball court, he gets on the wrong side of the local bully Cheng, receiving a nasty beating. When Dre starts at his new school he finds himself under constant threat from Cheng and his friends, but perhaps Mr Han, the handyman in his building, can show Dre a way to defend himself.

As source material goes, the original 1984 Karate Kid has to be among the most fondly remembered of all properties. It was almost a rite of passage to watch that film and then copy the karate moves in school the next day. I wasn't old enough to see the original in theatres, but its popularity within the home video market ensured that kids could learn all about Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi. It was our Rocky.

Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive about this new version. From seeing the trailers to hearing about the casting, it seemed to be walking all over the classic from my childhood. So, I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be actually quite good.

I'll be honest, when I heard that Jaden Smith (Will Smith's son) was going to be the new lead, I thought it was going to be a terrible idea. I could just picture Will Smith asking his son what he wanted to do over the summer.

'Do you want to go to camp?' 'No, I want to make a movie! Why don't we go to China and remake The Karate Kid!' 'Well that should really be Japan if you're talking karate, but sure! Why not?' 'Cool! I love you Dad.' 'Everyone does, son.'

Despite my reservations over his casting, Jaden Smith is actually a really likable kid, and the new generation of cinema-goers will probably see a lot to relate to in him. Dre Parker shares a lot of characteristics with Daniel Larusso, both cocky and brave and a charmer with the ladies, but it's Dre who has it worse. Daniel-san wanted to run back to New Jersey, but chose to confront his bullies; Dre is stuck in China, so he really has no other option but to fight back.

Of course the other major role in the original was Pat Morita's Mr Miyagi, here supplanted by Jackie Chan's Mr Han. Even though he's made some real dross in the past, Jackie Chan always seems like a nice guy, and I'm glad he's given the chance to do some acting here. Mr Han teaches Dre the same principles that Mr Miyagi teaches Daniel-san. He trains Dre's muscle memory with 'jacket on, jacket off', his stand-in for 'paint the fence' and 'wax on, wax off'. He's every bit as believable a mentor as Mr Miyagi was, though his personal demons are much more visable.

Dre also has a romance with a young chinese violin prodigy (who'd have thought it?), and it's actually quite sweet. A lot of the story seems to work better for Dre, a 13 year old, than it did for Daniel-san, a 16 year old. As well as having his first love and first kiss, the whole story works better as an allegory for puberty.

As for Dre's nemesis, he's a little bad-ass. Cheng is just as threatening as Johnny was in the original, but with the advantage of his baby face seems even more damaged and corrupted. All the young Chinese actors show some great physical acrobatics, although it is a little disconcerting to see such violence in such young children.

Now to the film's problems. It unfortunately shows some cultural ignorance calling a film The Karate Kid when it features NO karate. Not a single bit. Why would it? This is set in China, where Kung-fu is practiced. You may ask 'what's the difference', but you're liable to get a cheeky slap around the head from Jackie Chan. I know that a change of title was considered following some backlash on the internet, but obviously they've decided to keep the title the same to appeal to fans of the original series. They're now the parents of the children this is aimed at, and may choose to watch it themselves as a trip down memory lane.

The climactic Kung-fu championship falls short of the original too. As with the entire movie, the fight scenes are somewhat hampered by some suspect wirework, and Dre isn't given a move anywhere near as iconic as the crane kick. That's still the go to move of any playground/post-pub fight, and it won't be usurped by anything here. It's all a lot flashier than the original film, and there's these weird computer scoreboards in the finals that make it look like a computer game. They seem really out of place for a kid's contest.

The one thing that let the original Karate Kid down was its running time. It really didn't need to be over 2 hours. So, despite being an almost beat for beat remake of the original, this film has an extra 15 minutes added onto it. 2 hours 20 is just too long for a kids film, and they could have improved on the original by tightening up the running time a bit.

But, despite my initial reservations over the casting and the setting, this has turned out to be somewhat of a success. Those looking for a nostalgia kick will enjoy remembering the scenes from the original, and the new generation of karate (or kung-fu) kids may just have a new playground icon.


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