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Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

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I just had a terrific evening at the movies with my daughter. We saw the hugely entertaining remake of The Karate Kid and have seldom had as much fun at the movies. I was filled with nostalgia and wasn’t disappointed – it’s better than the Ralph Macchio/Pat Morita classic. She just loves anything Ninja-like.

The plot closely follows the original. Boy gets beat up by bullies. Boy gets help from a Yoda-like master and then faces the head bully in a tournament. Along the way, boy meets nice girl. It’s all formulaic and nothing unexpected happens.

But I walked out thinking, “Wow, you really know a movie like this is working when you can’t wait to see all the things you know are going to happen happen.” We were smiling ear to ear as we left the theater. Imagine my surprise when I got home and read people bashing it all over the Internet.

So I thought I’d devote my review to commenting on the negative criticisms and then offer my three best reasons to go see it.

One complaint is that the movie is too long — and maybe it is. Two hours and 20 minutes is too long for almost any movie, and it does spend too much time establishing Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) as a “fish out of water” after moving to Beijing with his mom. Basically, he gets tormented by bullies a time or two more than necessary. But I never glanced at my watch. Not even once.

Many have whined that the movie shows zero understanding of martial arts by keeping the title Karate Kid when it has nothing to do with karate. “Why didn’t they name it The Kung Fu Kid?" they say. Well, once again they have a point, but how many people know karate from kung fu – or even care – anyway?

Then the most vehement complaint: Will Smith’s little kid is annoying. On this point, I couldn’t disagree more. I – and my daughter – found Jaden to be very charismatic, a star in the making. He has a terrific screen presence, a natural way of holding a scene together, and the camera loves him. He’s great.

And now for my top three reasons to see the movie:

Setting the story in China was inspired. It gives the movie the quality of a gorgeous travelogue, a guided tour of one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. From the Forbidden City to the Great Wall to a train trip and precipitous climb up to a mountain monastery, the settings are always an eyeful.

The movie also takes its time and very nicely and sensitively developments the romantic relationship between Dre and a young violinist named Meiying. Often these romantic subplots feel shoehorned in, but this felt natural and lovely, just as young love should.

And, of course, the best reason to see this Karate Kid is Jackie Chan. This may be the role of a lifetime for him. His character is funny and sad and filled with opportunities for him to show a range he’s seldom shown before. It’s a career culmination that just may earn him an Oscar nomination for supporting actor. I have my fingers crossed.

I also scored a personal victory with my daughter. She enjoyed The Karate Kid so much that I finally got her to sit down and watch my favorite old-school kung fu movie, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. I think it went well, although she did find it a bit cheesy.

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About Todd Ford

  • Wesley

    The movie was outstanding. I am a 43 yrs old male. I saw the original, so lets take a few more stabs as the critics. The original actor was 17 years old actor ,hardly a “Karate-kid”. Jaden was 11 when the film starting shooting and actually learned a fighting style. 11 yrs old is a kid. The marital arts teacher in the original did not know karate or kung-fu. Jackie Chan on the other hand is a Master Kung-fu artist. For those who whine that this remake will somehow destroy their childhood by damaging the original. Well, I have news for you, time has done that and if you think that this will damage that memory then you are living in the past. Remember this is the 4th remake. This film does more honor to the original than the other films as it provides some cultural insight and imagery. At least it does pay tribute to a culture that created Kung-fu. And for those who say Jaden got the role only because of his parents, “HELLO’ Hollywood is nepotism capital. Need I say more? I.e. Douglas’, Bridges,’ Sheen’s, Barrymore’s etc. For you few I say that there is a hint of either narrow vision or bit of racism. I hate to pull that card, but there are only a few powerhouse black families in Hollywood and you chose to mention unfair when they bankroll a project for their kid? Shame on you. The film is touching, well executed and Jaden and his Chinese counterparts did a very good job.. Go see it with an open mind and you might just be surprised.

  • Sasha

    I found The Karate Kid very entertaining. It was a family oriented movie and my family and I walked out excite feeling good! Jaden Smith did an excellent job and his parents should be proud.

  • Wesley

    Todd, Wow. The 36 chambers with Gordon Lu is my favorite Kung-fu movie of all time as well. Funny, believe it or not there is another movie that is not as serious but the fight and training scenes are great and it contains some humor but you will appreciate the fight/training scenes. Mad Monkey kung fu. The master in that movie is Super. Your daughter will like that more as it is not as intense, but wow is it good. Also if you can stand animation (Manga). Check out Ninja Scroll.

  • Nesha

    Will and Jada is an amazing Power Couple. They did an awesome job raising their son. The movie was the best ever, I walked out in awwwwww lost for words. He’s just a talented as his parents.

  • Laura Winningham

    I am a 54 year old female who loved this movie as much as my 16 year old son. I consider myself a movie gourmand. I watch as many movies as I possibly can. I have been devouring movies since the age of three. I enjoyed this Karate Kid more than the original. This movie has it all humor, drama, and adventure. I wish all movies could be this good! Kudos to the Smiths. They are one terrific acting family!

  • Mr Miyagi

    I was expecting something great. I was disappointed.

    I tried to ignore the fact that it called itself “The Karate Kid”, but I couldnt, as it constantly talked about “Kung Fu” with no karate in the film being displayed at all, so the title didnt make any sense whatsoever. Mr Jackie Chan has noteably already created a film called “The Kung Fu Kid”, so that may be one reason as to any renaming, but they could have came up with a better title that was at least related to the film in some sense (eastern viewers would notice-hence this new film is actually called “The Kung Fu Dream” in China, and “Best Kid” in Japan!). Obviously naming it to “The Karate Kid” was too much to ignore, as it was bound to pull in an audience at the cinema, and therefore all the cash. So with a couple of Miyagi moments being added in there at the last minute (Mr Chan catching flies with chopsticks, and the mention by the nasty tutor at the end to his pupil to “break the leg” instead of “sweep the leg”, and that final kick to win the competition).. we therefore had a sequel! 😉

    Its not a bad film, but its worst problem is that its over 2 hours long, and its very slow paced indeed, with no real “focus” on a real story to keep things interesting-its starts and ends well, but nothing much happens in between-the story focuses more on two pre-teen kids romance than anything else. Theres even a final kiss near the end of the film with the chinese girl that Dre(Jaden) is fond of-but how comfortable can you feel when these kids are pre-puberty? lol. Theres not alot of martial arts, but the Kung Fu fighting that does occur with Jaden is also over the top, speeded up, with large bass noise for each kick hitting home-very artificial. Nothing like the “original” movies, and one purely for the next MTV generation. *yawn*