With all of the remakes that are descending down upon us, I try to see the original versions before I see what present day Hollywood has to offer. Unfortunately I am not always able to. I am actually quite disappointed this time more than others that I was not able to see the initial film to this remake. I know, I know, just like not seeing other movies such as The Godfather franchise and Scarface, not seeing the original three or at least the very first Karate Kid is seen as a mortal sin in the world of classic movies. But I promise I will get to it and much sooner rather than later now that I’ve seen the revamp.
Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is uprooted from his life in Detroit and forced to move halfway around the globe to Beijing, China because of his mother’s, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) job. Culture shock would be an understatement here, simply moving to another neighborhood even takes some kind of adjustment but moving to another continent in another hemisphere altogether has got to be far from easy. Right off the bat, Dre meets a young girl named Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han) who is an aspiring violinist and finds himself smitten with her. He tries to talk to her and she takes an interest back but another kid, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), witnesses their friendly interaction and decides to step in. Step in is putting it mildly, him and his “crew” immediately pressure Dre into a fight which ends with him laying face down on the ground. After trying to cover up his black eye with makeup for school the next day, he runs into the same kid during lunch but this showdown is cancelled due to the arrival by the school principal. Frustrated, feeling alone and very angry, Dre tells his mom that he is ready to go home. Her only response to him is a very disappointing, “this is home”.
Taking an opportunity to exact some revenge on his enemies, Dre throws a bucket of dirty water on them and takes off running only to be caught where he once again finds himself lying face down on the ground. This time, however, he is rescued by his buildings maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). He quickly puts an end to the fight without once laying a hurtful hand on the children who are much younger than himself even though they take turns trying to attack him. He then takes Dre to the martial arts studio where these bullies train to confront their sensei, Master Li (Yu Rongguang), and try to make peace. Master Li, who relentlessly teaches his students to be merciless and excessively violent in their battles, wants to hear nothing of the sort claiming that they both have disrespected his studio and prevents either of them from leaving without a fight. Mr. Han makes a deal with the teacher stating that Dre will compete against his pupils in an open invitation kung-fu tournament. Upon hearing this, Dre is even more depressed than before stating that now he gets to have his ass kicked in public but his mood quickly changes when Mr. Han tells him that he will train him.
The next hour or so shows the intense martial arts training that Dre goes through, both methods that the audience might expect to see mixed in with some very unorthodox ones. We also see Dre’s relationship with Mei Ying develop and blossom into something more than just friends. Mr. Han’s past is also revealed and he connects with his pupil on a level that even he did not expect to. Of course the story builds to the most exciting part of the film, the tournament. Everything he has learned and more is on full display as Dre attempts to overcome his fear of not just being able to defend himself but also adjusting to his new life and giving a man with past demons a second chance at his own.
The Karate Kid is a true all around crowd pleaser. It has kids being kids including the funny things that they say, pop-and-lock dancing and practical jokes. It shows the difficult transgression that one would go through, especially a child, being torn away from everything they once knew and introduced into an entirely new life. It has romance and friendship and insight into Chinese culture and of course it has the stunt fighting and action that is expected of it. One controversy that it did spark was the fact that it is titled The Karate Kid, respectively after its predecessors, but features the kung fu style of martial art fighting. Karate is in relation to Japanese culture whereas kung fu is to Chinese. It is titled The Kung Fu Kid in Asian countries and only called its original name in America.
Jaden Smith seems to be a natural after only a couple of films on his resume. He trained with the films fight and stunt coordinator, Wu Gang, before filming his fight and training scenes with Jackie Chan. Acting wise, he does a great job, probably just playing himself; he adds jokes and charisma to his character that will delight movie goers. Jackie Chan puts on possibly his best acting performance aside of stunt fighting that I have seen yet. He brings rare emotion and power to his character while still maintaining some of his signature funny man antics and one liners. Of course there’s one of my celebrity girlfriends, Taraji P. Henson, who plays a cool but no nonsense mother who will kill someone over her baby. I might also add that she looks quite delicious while donning a traditional red Chinese dress called a Cheongsam during one scene.
Young or old, boy or girl, karate or Kung fu, this film is definitely one to check out. It doesn’t disappoint and even though I haven’t seen the original, I’m sure it would have made Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita) proud. I give The Karate Kid “4 training sessions of repeatedly putting your jacket on and off out of 5”.
Dre – “You mean you don’t know the rules?”
Mr. Han – “Simple. You hit him, don’t let him hit you.”
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