Review: “The Karate Kid”

Jaden Smith starts kung fu fighting, is fast as lightning

Mr. Han (Chan) teaching his young padawan (Smith)
Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

Mr. Han (Chan) teaching his young padawan (Smith) Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

by Tony Libera

âÄúThe Karate KidâÄù Directed by: Harald Zwart Starring: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson. Rated: PG Showing at: Area theaters Hollywood has rarely been considered a beacon of originality, but these days the lack of creativity is getting out of control. It seems like every other movie that comes to theaters is a remake, a sequel or an adaptation, and the results are, by and large, terrible. When it was announced that âÄúThe Karate KidâÄù was being updated, fans of the quintessential âÄô80s classic must have been expecting the worst. But the 2010 version is passable, despite its various problems. The original movie shows the teenage Daniel Larusso moving from New Jersey to California, but in this telling of the underdog story our hero is Dre Parker (Jaden Smith ), a 12-year-old boy who has just made a much tougher move from Detroit to Beijing. Dre doesnâÄôt know the language or the culture and to make matters worse, heâÄôs become the target of a bully named Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), who just so happens to be a sadistic kung fu wunderkind. Dre takes a few shameful beatings before a maintenance man named Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) rescues him, revealing his kung fu mastery in the process. Desperate to fend off Cheng and his cronies, Dre begs the reticent Mr. Han to teach him kung fu, and the old man, after some pestering, consents. Plot-wise, this âÄúKarate KidâÄù is more or less the same movie as its namesake, which is refreshing. But it becomes problematic because of one major change âÄî the charactersâÄô ages. Daniel is a high school student in the first entry; being angsty and awkwardly trying to woo honeys is typical and relatable. But Dre and the like havenâÄôt even hit puberty, which makes their interactions feel a little silly and overly grown-up. His enchantment with a female classmate is just too romantic to be believable, ChengâÄôs hostility toward him is far too cruel and the hyper-stylized martial arts âÄîover-the-top by all standards of reality âÄî end up looking ridiculous (albeit cool). Given a few more years, the story would have been more believable, but Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith , producers on the film and parents of its young star, obviously wanted to push their baby bird out of the nest as soon as possible. Still, the most absurd part of the producersâÄô adherence to the source material is undoubtedly the remakeâÄôs title, âÄúThe Karate Kid.âÄù The film is set in Beijing, China, features Jackie Chan, who is a Chinese movie star, and details one boyâÄôs quest to learn kung fu, which, unlike karate, is a Chinese martial art. Why not just call it âÄúThe Kung Fu Kid?âÄù The movie-going public would have understood, and the studio could have avoided cultural insensitivity. All that being said, the film is fun to watch: It dazzles with complex fight choreography and tugs on the olâÄô heartstrings on more than one occasion. The director, Harald Zwart, a man whose most well-known film is âÄúThe Pink Panther 2 ,âÄù gives a solid effort, evoking a strong response from his audience. He hangs onto the characters a little too long, and the film runs to 140 minutes because of it, but his method allows Dre to grow in a fashion that doesnâÄôt feel forced or undercooked. The length of the movie also gives us more time to watch Smith and Chan work off one another, which is by far the most enjoyable part of the movie. ChanâÄôs performance is particularly moving, shifting from stolid handyman to impassioned surrogate father. ItâÄôs a treat to watch the martial arts superstar, a man known for his death-defying stunts and goofball comic timing, show off his range. Whether itâÄôs stoicism, subtle affection or impassioned despair, Chan makes us empathize, showing the world that heâÄôll be a movie star even when heâÄôs too old to physically kick ass. âÄúThe Karate KidâÄù is certainly not the best martial arts movie around, but as recent remakes go it is better than most. LetâÄôs hope the producers quit while theyâÄôre ahead; three more films would be unbearable. 2.5/4 Stars