A remake of The Karate Kid was always going to cause a stir amongst those who remember the original fondly. Remakes don’t go down too well purely on principal, (“They’re ruining my childhood!”) but with The Karate Kid in particularly this is a film beloved by those who grew up in the ‘80s, more cherished out of nostalgia than for how good the movie actually is.
Truthfully the original Karate Kid isn’t a masterpiece and it could be argued a remake was past due. But at the same time a remake had the potential to be a phoned-in, contrived and silly exercise in cash-grabbing. Luckily that’s not the case as this is one of the better remakes to come out of Hollywood, full of genuine heart and with genuinely well choreographed fight sequences.
The story follows Dre Parker (Jaden Smith), a 12-year-old boy from Detroit who is forced to move with his mother to China because of her job. Not long after landing in a country that feels totally alien to him (including the fact he doesn’t speak the language), he begins to get bullied by a local boy who also happens to be one of his classmates (just his luck).
So Dre decides to try and fight back by learning martial arts. After failing to stand up to his tormentor, he receives a helping-hand from Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the maintenance man of their building. Mr. Han begins to put him through a rigorous training regime to learn Kung Fu in order to win a martial arts tournament.
The plot isn’t the most imaginative in the world but it provides a container for pretty much everything that this type of film should have. It’s by-the-numbers stuff all the way through, from the personal conflicts of Dre trying to get used to his new home to the things he has to overcome in order to prove his worth and honour (no prizes for guessing what the climax of the movie entails).
But even as it strikes all the chords you’d expect (clichéd is a word I wouldn’t shy away from using), it does so with great aplomb. Crucially the relationship between Dre and Mr. Han is believable and realistic, stretching from tough teacher/student to caring friends and the film manages to achieve this whilst rarely (if ever) feeling forced or contrived.
The fight sequences are where the real strengths of The Karate Kid lie. The film’s age rating stops things from getting into “battered-and-bloody” territory but the fighting still manages to feel realistic – you can really feel every punch and kick that gets thrown.
Jaden Smith as Dre is solid although in the instances of him being defiant towards his mother (back-chatting and the like) or getting sentimental with a girl he likes in his class, his delivery of the dialogue is rather stilted. Still, Smith clearly has some of that acting talent and charisma of his father and I can see him going a long way in Hollywood.
While no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, The Karate Kid does what it needs to do rather well. It combines some kick-ass fight scenes with genuine heart and emotion, and even a healthy dose of true-to-life humour. Certainly one of the biggest pleasant surprises of 2010, The Karate Kid sits comfortably as one of those rare remakes that’s better than the original.
One last thing: can anyone explain to me why it’s called The Karate Kid when it focuses on Kung Fu?