Directed by: Harald Zwart
Premise: A remake of the 1984 film. A teenage boy (Jaden Smith) moves to China with his mother and becomes the target of gang of classmates schooled in martial arts. The boy is taken under the wing of a solitary maintenance man (Jackie Chan) who schools him in kung-fu.
What Works: Although The Karate Kid shares the name and root concept of the classic 1984 film, that is about all it shares with the original, but that turns out to be for the film’s benefit. By changing the setting and the characters but keeping the fundamentals of the story, The Karate Kid is able to stay true to the elements that made the original film so popular but still deliver a reasonably fresh take on the material. Jaden Smith is a natural actor and a lot of fun to watch; he is very funny and can carry the physical part of the role but Smith and the screenwriters are willing to make the character vulnerable and even foolhardy, which gives him a Tom Sawyer-like appeal. The character’s romance with a Chinese classmate (Wenwen Han) is very sweet and further humanizes him while also giving the story opportunities for culture shock as the character struggles to assimilate into the Chinese culture. Jackie Chan also contributes to the film as the elder martial arts master. Although he does not have the charm of Pat Morita in the original film, he does give a different take on the mentor character and as an actor Chan stretches further than he ever has before. The fight scenes of The Karate Kid are well choreographed and director Harald Zwart adopts some contemporary action films techniques while using them with a degree of restraint and purpose. For example, in many recent films slow motion is used for no other reason than that it looks impressive but this film uses the technique to allow the audience to feel the pain of the impact of a punch, or dwell on a character’s moment of revelation, or to study the coordination of the fight. This subtle but purposeful use of style elevates The Karate Kid above other similar films.
What Doesn’t: As part of the reimagining of The Karate Kid, the age of the main cast is reduced to about twelve years old. The youth of the characters takes away from the villainy of the antagonists and it is harder to take them seriously. Also, the filmmakers do indulge Oriental exoticism, turning China into a mystical land and its traditions and history into something out of a fairytale.
Bottom Line: Whether this new Karate Kid has the same kind of impact of its progenitor remains to be seen but as a film in and of itself this is very good movie.
Episode: #294 (June 27, 2010)