Wax Off Your Skepticism and Check Out The Karate Kid
(Dre has a black eye from a fight)I'm gonna start by pointing out with the obvious. Yes, this is a remake of the 1984 Karate Kid, despite being set in China and featuring Kung Fu. If that is truly the hang up that is stopping someone from seeing this film, they better get over it, because this is a crowd pleaser all the way. A well made film that proves how strong a formula can be if handled properly.
Mr. Han: What happened to your eye?
Dre: I ran into a pole.
Mr. Han: Hm. Interesting pole.
Jaden Smith stars as Dre Parker, a twelve-year-old boy who has just moved from America to China, with his mother, played by Taraji P. Henson. Dre doesn't get very far in adjusting to his surroundings before both meeting a girl who likes him and becoming sworn enemies with a group of boys who seem to want to do nothing but bully and beat Dre up.
Eventually, before another beating, Dre is saved by his apartment building's maintenance man, Mr. Han, played by Jackie Chan. Mr. Han attempts to reason with the bullies' teacher, but it turns out that he is the one who have twisted these kids' minds to fight without mercy. A proposal is made for Dre to compete in a tournament, where he can hopefully fight off the bullies in a fair manor for good. Now Dre and Mr. Han must work together, with Dre undergoing some serious training and Mr. Han coming out of his shell and opening up a bit more to gain a new friend.
Mr. Han: Your focus needs more focus.When first announced, this film could not have been in a worst position. It is remaking a property that is very beloved, retooling elements of the basic concept (kung fu) and putting Jaden Smith in the lead role, after having just come off of The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, where everyone really hated his character. It is a testament to how strong this formula is, which the original film made very popular, and shows why this film works very well.
The plot is pretty much, beat for beat, exactly the same as the original, expanding upon or modifying some elements, but still following a very familiar path. This does not hurt the film, because of how well made it is. The story manages to develop and show how much care went into preserving the story.
Jaden Smith in the lead actually has a lot of screen presence. The fact that he is younger than the high school version with Ralph Macchio is effective, because the film does a good job at establishing Dre as being fearful of the bullies. Chan is also quite good. Its a tough spot to fill, as Mr. Myagi was an award winning performance, but Chan dials down his charming attitude a bit and shows some quality acting chops for his role.
The weak spot, which is the same for the original, is how the bullies are portrayed. They are just so over-the-top evil that it borders on ludicrous, but it's essentially just as much a staple of the Karate Kid franchise as the montage training sequences are.
Where this film truly excels is in its cinematography and fight choreography. Thanks to the international cooperation between Sony, Will Smith, and China, this movie was allowed to film in places not usually seen in American places, like the Forbidden City, and because of this, the film is great to look at. Sweeping camera shots of various locations all over China are greatly appreciated and enhance the scope of this film. In addition, the way the action is shot is actually better than many standard action movies of today. They are well choreographed and filmed at a distance where you can see what's going on.
All this being said, what much of this all comes down to is the heart this movie has. Despite any objections I may have had, or anyone for that matter, sitting through this movie and getting to these moments where our lead character accomplishes things and achieves some final solid payoffs are damn effective and led to appropriate clapping in the theater, which is a credit to how strong the film is in terms of delivering a positive message and being something that an entire family can enjoy. Is that cheesy? Probably, but remember, this is a remake of an 80s film.
Mr. Han: Life can knock us down, but we can choose to get back up.