June 12, 2010
Review - " The Karate Kid " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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The Karate Kid
Directed by: Harald Zwart
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith and Taraji P Henson
Remake of the iconic 1984 original which paired young Ralph Macchio
with Pat Morita, The Karate Kid has a concept that is the same but the
locale has moved from California to the Far East.
After his dad dies, 12 year-old Dre Parker’s (Jaden Smith) widowed
mom (Taraji P. Henson) makes a career move from Detroit to Beijing,
so Dre suddenly finds himself in China, where the language, customs
and chopsticks are unfamiliar. While he makes one friend, violin-
playing Mei Ying, he also makes an enemy, Cheng, the class bully.
During their first scuffle, Dre tries to use a little karate but, in this land
of kung fu fighting, sadistic Cheng and his Flying Dragon buddies beat
him up and continue to terrorize him after school with alarming
regularity until a maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), comes to
his rescue. A wushu master, Mr. Han is disgusted with the
aggressiveness taught at a local academy. So he patiently trains Dre
in the ancient art, preparing him to compete against Cheng in a
Building on Robert Mark Kamen’s familiar story, screenwriter
Christopher Murphey and director Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks)
expand the lonely, fatherless son/childless mentor theme, evoking
familiar training moments as the repetitive car-waxing sequence
becomes “jacket on, jacket off.” To satisfy the 1984 version’s fans, this
one contains a homage to the original film, including a variation of the
famous fly catching scene in which Chan’s character ends up swatting
it instead of using chopsticks. While Roger Pratt’s cinematography is
stunning, the running time of almost two and a half hours appears, far too long.
Jackie Chan, in what probably is his best role, in an American production, delivers a subdued performance with surprising
grace. Jaden Smith’s (last seen in Pursuit of Happyness) athletic prowess is convincing, augmented by his inherent charm
and inherited acting ability. (His star parents are actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith). Taraji P Henson offers rock-solid
The Karate Kid is an appealing reboot of the 1984 classic and deserves a watch by the fans of the original as well as by
those who haven’t seen the original. The material has been reworked to showcase Jaden Smith, who was 11 during filming.
He kicks a lot higher than Macchio ever did, though watching a preteen subjected to two-plus hours of ritual humiliation and
punishment offers a different, more sobering emotional experience than a young adult playing a high schooler. On the other
hand: Smith, son of producers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, is such a cool, unflappably stoic young performer, one's
queasiness is more theoretical than actual.
Jackie Chan co-stars in Morita's old role of
the humble maintenance man who coaches
the Bullied One. The older Chan gets, the
simpler and truer he becomes as a performer.
Screenwriter Christopher Murphey is a
devoted student of the original, right down to
the drunken confession of a painful personal
loss delivered by the surrogate father figure.
Chan pulls this scene off, in what may be the
most openly emotional scene of his film career.
Then it's back to training montages and
storytelling basics, designed to mold Smith's
Dre into a worthy adversary for the kung fu
punks led by Wang Zhenwei's malignant
There's a love interest for Dre, a violin prodigy
(Han Wenwen) fascinated with Dre's hair
and obvious Hollywood-royalty cred. She is
there, rooting for him, at the final showdown,
just as Elisabeth Shue was back in the day. But honestly the romance part of this story fails miserably. In the original Machio
& Shue's characters were 16, the ideal age for high school romance. But a love story between an 11 year old who looks all
of 9 and a cute 12 year old china doll just doesn't fly. The title of the redux is a stretch, since Dre is the kung fu kid, not
karate. Little matter. "Fight hard, earn respect, boys leave you alone," Chan's character advises, practicing his screenplay
I doubt even Smith and Chan believe their film needed to be 140 minutes long, but the leisurely running time allows, at least,
for a little variety in the pacing and a day-tripper's exploration of Beijing and surrounding locales.
The script's inevitable parallels to pivotal
moments in Avildsen's film are all well-
considered. Han's weirder directives to
Dre might not be as fun as those wacky,
car-waxing, fence painting, and floor
sanding scenes from the original, but the
thrilling fight choreography emerging from
them is really something to behold.
Similarly, the crucial revelation of Han's
tragic back story is quite different from
Miyagi's. But the lyrical action scene that
results — further bonding Han and Dre —
is this "Kid's" emotional high point. For the
most part this remake stands up better
than poor Daniel-san could by the end of
his 1984 tourney.