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The Karate Kid (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

The Karate Kid


Starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson, Han Wenwen, Wang Zhenwei, Yu Rongguang, Luke Carberry, Wu Zhensu, Harry Van Gorkum and Wang Zhiheng.

Screenplay by Christopher Murphy.

Directed by Harald Zwart.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 140 minutes. Rated PG.

The Karate Kid is a pretty perfect primer in how to totally screw up a remake of a well-known film.

The answer is pretty simple. Over think it. Make unnecessary and excessive changes just for the sake of making them. Despite the fact that the script is somewhat faithful to the basic storyline of the 1984 favorite, the premise has been monkeyed around with just enough to make the film feel significantly lesser.

The basic storyline is still good enough that the new film is somewhat enjoyable; however, the new film feels such a desperate need to make everything bigger and better that it eventually has the opposite effect – making the pleasure of the audience significantly smaller.

For example, why exactly do they feel they have to so completely change the lifestyle of the title character? He goes from moving with his mother from New Jersey to the Valley right outside of LA in the original to moving from Detroit to Beijing, China in this installment. (Don’t the filmmakers know he is not supposed to go to Asia until they remake The Karate Kid II?) Really, other than some unnecessary shots of Daniel-san (oh, I’m sorry, young Dre) practicing on the great wall of China and having all the bad guys speak in Mandarin with subtitles, what does the new setting really add to the story? In fact, why China at all? The handyman-turned-karate teacher upon whom the story revolved in the original film was Japanese.

Even more troubling is the lengths that the filmmakers went to shoehorn Jaden Smith into the role. In fact, while he does have a realistic screen presence as a child, his acting is so lazy and lifeless that I can’t imagine anyone hiring him other than his mother and father – and, big surprise: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are both executive producers here. However, even beyond his lack of his dad’s acting charisma, Jaden’s casting is a much simpler and more disturbing misstep on the filmmakers’ part. In the original, it was a seventeen-year-old kid being beaten up by other seventeen-year-old kids. He was overmatched, sure, but the possibility of a fair fight did exist. Here you have a twelve-year-old boy being beaten up by a bunch of fifteen or sixteen-year olds. That just seems wrong on every possible level.

They also changed the tone of the movie to a darker, more austere, less feel-good vibe. Why, for example did Mr. Miyagi (damn it, I mean Han) have to lose a ten-year-old child here as well as his wife? Really, does that add anything to the story other than a little more maudlin pathos?

Rather, a lot more maudlin pathos, because at two hours and 20 minutes this film is at the very least a half hour too long.

Also, why soft-pedal it with one of the most legendary sequences of the original film? The “wax on, wax off” sequence was surprising because it looked like Mr. Miyagi was exploiting his young student rather than teaching him. Mr. Han’s technique? Making the kid hang up and take down his coat thousands of times. Are there some child labor laws in China that I haven’t heard of? Beyond being simply less interesting visually, it is dramatically much less intriguing because what the kid is doing may be menial, but it is not really exactly labor. And, frankly, when those tasks are proven to be martial arts moves, the new moves look little like the job he was given.

Hell, it isn’t even about karate anymore. It’s about Kung Fu. You would assume that a film called The Karate Kid would have at least some karate in it. But, no, none of that here. However, the title The Kung Fu Kid does not have the built-in franchise value. Therefore, you have to assume the kid and everyone around him simply don’t know what kind of martial art he is performing.

So, what does this film do right? Not that much, although I do have to say that Jackie Chan does relatively well with his role as the kid’s kung-fu trainer/protector. Chan has never been a great actor, but he works hard to please the audience and he has some of his better dramatic moments here. That said – and I never thought I’d type these words – but Jackie Chan is no Pat Morita. Mr. Han does not have the gleam in his eye or the sense of wisdom of his predecessor.

Then again, Jaden Smith is no Ralph Macchio, which is really saying something. No one ever confused Macchio for the ideal leading man, but in comparison he is head and shoulders above his young successor.

In fact, the same thing can be said about the versions of the movie in which each one of them starred. The new Karate Kid is a harmless enough way to spend an afternoon. In fact, it has some very intriguing moments strewn about. Still, in the long run it is merely a pale imitation of its predecessor.

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: July 9, 2010


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