In 1984 the world was introduced to the concept of "wax on, wax off." The family targeted film told a story of overcoming obstacles and believing in yourself. The Karate Kid turned out to be a big hit as it was the fifth biggest film of the year and led to an Oscar nomination for Pat Morita's iconic performance as Mr. Miyagi, the zen-like handyman and martial arts instructor. The film became a centerpiece for a generation. I remember loving it when I was a youth, and still do (although some elements seem a bit dated). What helped the film succeed was the uplifting nature and the complete absence of cynicism in the face of what is, admittedly, a cliched plot. Now we have a new take on the old material. Is there any chance of matching its success?
When I first heard about this project, I was less than enthused. I am not really against remakes, but this did not seem like one I wanted to see. Then I learned that Jaden Smith would be the lead, and I wanted to see it even less than before. Jackie Chan was the next name to come out, and I wanted to see it a little bit more as I do like me some Jackie Chan! Still, there was no way they can replace Pat Morita nor anyway they can recapture the energy and effect the original had. Of course, who is to say they were trying? Perhaps they just saw a way of telling the story in a different way.
Well, the trailer came and I was shocked to find it looked pretty good. All right, I am sold. I'll check it out, and so I did. I went. I saw, I conquered. I walked out with a smile on my face. Yes, it is true; this new Karate Kid is very good, surprisingly so. It offers nothing new, and I mean nothing, but it succeeds in other ways. They did not need to update the story; they just needed to execute in the modern fashion.
While this new film follows the original beat for beat, it changes almost all of the window dressing. Instead of California it's China; instead of karate it's kung fu (and they did briefly consider retitling the film), and the cast is made considerably younger, but it is all dressing. The story still hits all of the same beats in the same order.