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.