Directed by: Harald Zwart Cast: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan Running Time: 2 hrs 20 mins Rating: PG Release Date: June 11, 2010
PLOT: Soon after moving to China, a young American boy named Dre (Smith) becomes the target of aggressive bullying. In order to defend himself, he takes lessons from a wise older electrician named Mr. Han (Chan), who also teaches him the honorable ways of kung-fu.
WHO'S IT FOR?: The age of the protagonist is lowered from the original to appeal to even younger boys. This is fine, but the stylized fighting can be pretty brutal to witness as performed by 11-year-olds. As for fans of the original, there’s no crane kick to be seen here, but there's potential that now grown-up wannabe karate kids will be able to take something positive away from this one.
EXPECTATIONS: On the outside, a Karate Kid remake directed by Harald Zwart starring Will Smith’s son (who was just awful in The Day The Earth Stood Still) does not seem promising. But every underdog deserves a fighting chance. Plus, Jackie Chan always maintains a level of charisma even in his weaker American productions (The Spy Next Door).
Jaden Smith as Dre: Will Smith has his hands all over Jaden in this one. In the beginning, Jaden made me feel the same way his father felt about a little pistol in Men in Black - “I feel like I’m gonna break this damn thing.” But his character's transformation is actually quite believable (showing Jaden perform a split is a chronological cherry on top). Still, while it’s likely that Jackie Chan helped train Jaden off-camera, it’s obvious that Will Smith opened his own acting boot-camp for his son. Jaden acts just like his father, with his awkward excuses for his ill-founded rookie confidence. But that method made Will famous, so why can’t his son do the same? Score: 6
Jackie Chan as Mr. Han: Any speculation about Chan taking on the role that Pat Morita once made legendary is squashed by this performance, which makes the character a bit of his own and also shows that the action-star is still relevant even with some older age. Chan even has a heavy dramatic moment that might register as corny for some, but he makes it work. And then there’s the mentor’s presentation of his own skill - Who could truly sell a “fight sequence” consisting of only counter attacks? No one, except for Jackie Chan. Score: 6
TALKING: Everyone in China knows English, so there are not many moments throughout that require subtitles. I'm under the belief that halflings say “dude” a lot, so their boy banter is legitimate. For those who are curious, there are some attempts at creating a legendary line like "Wax on, wax off," but none of Mr. Han's verbal wisdom will stick. You might have a new phrase to whisper to yourself when you're taking off your jacket, however. Score: 5
SIGHTS: Even if sights like The Great Wall of China or The Forbidden City are looked at through corny lenses, the magnitude of these breathtaking landmarks is not lost. It was a fairly odd decision to make this reboot of the The Karate Kid in China, but at least the film does not cut short its usage of its special locale. Score: 7
SOUNDS: Jaden Smith raps just like his father in the end credit song “Never Say Never,” a new tune from Canadian door-magnet Justin Bieber. (Example lyric: "No pun intended, I was raised by the power of Will.") There's also a scene when Jaden and his on-screen love interest have a Dance Dance Revolution competition, and songs like “Apple Bottom Jeans” and “Pokerface” do their part in dating the movie itself. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: The heavily anticipated tournament delivers with its absurdly brutal violence, tense moments, and unexpected bursts of laughter that happen whenever they re-show a match in slow-motion on the most dramatic Jumbotron ever.
ENDING: There's certainly a window open for a sequel, one that would likely take us back to America. But I'm just assuming this, of course.
QUESTIONS: I thought freeze-frames to black that come after high-fives were outlawed?
REWATCHABILITY: Though the running time says 140, it doesn’t feel like it. I could watch this again later down the road with some time in between. I am very curious to see whether this gets better or worse with more viewings.
I am very happy I didn’t want to crane kick Jaden Smith in the face after witnessing his new take on The Karate Kid. While he nor Chan will blow you away with their own riffings on the famous characters from the 1984 original, the duo provide enough evidence to silence any hissing haters who may have thought their casting was the recipe for remake disaster. Lil’ Smith studied his father’s films well enough to understand how to be a likable rookie, and Jackie Chan’s serious face is put on display here in a role that shows he really can be entertaining no matter how many gray hairs there may be on his head.
But what makes The Karate Kid so average is its corny handling, which bleeds into moments that are meant to be dramatic, romantic, etc. The script has a nice touch with its idea of explaining a mysterious story element farther down the road (jacket, car restoration) but that’s the only element that stands out as fresh. Dre’s fancying of a Chinese girl is told with all sorts of cheese, and sprinkled with a few over-dramatic speed bumps (which sometimes include an appearance by the winners of China's Best Teenage Kung-Fu Crew).
The corniness is very much felt in what is also (not meant to be) the most amusing part of this movie - its scenes of violence. You’ve never seen schoolyard bullying in such an absurd and over-dramatic form. Praise be to the The Karate Kid, however, for offering the only place where one can watch future mini kung-fu drug mules deliver angst-filled throat punches and beefy knuckle sandwiches to each other’s ribs. Much of it is performed with wires, and a kiddie parkour sequence is even thrown into the mix. Is this My Little Ong-Bak Movie? Either way, I’m still giggling about some of these moments, and not in the way that director Zwart may want me to.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10