It’s now safe to draw the conclusion that Jaden Smith is a rising star. Working opposite veteran action hero Jackie Chan in the new update of The Karate Kid (Sony Pictures), the young actor (offspring of Hollywood super-couple Will and Jada) charmingly arrests the spotlight, making his character both likable and appealing.
His performance, heavily marked by fighting off bullies, training for a kung fu tournament, and romancing a pretty young thing, is a delight to watch as the young lead manages to convincingly strike the right balance between smart-mouth kid and burgeoning heartbreaker.
Directed by Harald Zwart with a screenplay by Christopher Murphey, The Karate Kid is a delightfully engaging reimagining of the 1984 original that transcends its inevitable clichés and predictability. It’s super-fun and entertaining. It’s story is poignant and emotionally involving.
Smith stars as 12-year-old Dre Parker, a sweet, good-natured kid who loves his life in Detroit. Now, he finds himself in Beijing, China due to a new career move by his hard-working single mother (Taraji P. Henson). Dre immediately finds the cultural differences difficult to navigate, but he soon befriends and falls for a beautiful classmate who plays the violin. However, their stark differences complicate their friendship.
Worse, Dre's closeness with the girl makes an enemy of the kung fu-trained class bully, Cheng, who mercilessly picks on Dre. A stranger in a strange land with no friends, Dre has nobody to turn to but the quiet maintenance man Mr. Han, who is secretly a martial arts master. Han teaches Dre that kung fu is not about punches and anger, but maturity and engendering peace, and before long the boy realizes that standing up for himself will be the fight of his life.
Zwart, who has worked with young leads for such previous flicks as Agent Cody Banks, manouevres many pitfalls attendant to formulaic remakes while eliciting a superb turn from Smith and ratcheting up the chemistry between Jackie Chan and Smith – martial arts mentor and student – that feels both easy and remarkable.
Chan, though, surrenders most of the spotlight to his young co-star, who admirably succeeds in scaling the lofty expectations that come with being the scion of the world’s biggest box-office draw, Will Smith. Overall, it’s a crowd-pleasing affair with heart and courage that will touch even the most strident skeptic.
In short, this new Karate Kid might lack the freshness and surprises of the original (a classic by many standards), but it delivers a solidly satisfying and entertaining two hours – and a splendid showcase for young Mr. Smith.