The original Karate Kid is an endearing classic whose appeal remains very much intact till today. The themes of coming of age, standing up against bullying and teacher-student relationship resonate just as strongly today. Therefore, when Harold Zwart whose repertoire includes mediocre work like Agent Cody Banks and disasters like The Pink Panther 2 was placed at the helm of the remake, I had my concerns. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a shot and here is what I thought:
The Karate Kid (2010) stars Will Smith’s son Jaden Smith as a 12 year old Dre who relocates from the familiar Detroit suburb to Beijing. On the very first day, he gets into a fight with Cheng, a local kung fu champion and a bully. Constantly bullied and often beaten up, Dre finds a teacher in the building handyman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) and together they train to participate in the Open Kung Fu Tournament where Dre must face his fears and take on Cheng.
The remake compromises on the simplicity and heart of the original in favour of a typically slick Hollywood production. The production values are considerably grander; the action more stylised and choreographed. Karate is replaced by kung fu. The participants are depicted as 12 year olds which makes the violence a tad too disturbing to stomach in places.
However, when seen as a stand alone film, it is certainly not without its merits. The story is solid and the screenplay is deliberately steady paced to allow the characters to grow. There are scenes which are extremely well written and characters which are endearing in their own right; on their own terms. The film does have plenty of heart and while the tone of the film is entirely distinct from the film, it does retain plenty of the charm. The relocation of the tale to Beijing allows the cinematographer ample scope to provide arresting visuals of city and the countryside. It is interesting to see modern China on the silver screen, which is a rarity in mainstream cinema.
The movie is also embellished with some wonderful performances by the principal actors. It is clearly designed as a star vehicle for Jaden Smith and he does not disappoint. He is a highly expressive actor and matches up to senior actors like Taraji Henson and Jackie Chan every step of the way. He is mischievous, sharp and extremely endearing. He also shines in the action sequences and his perseverance to prepare for the role clearly shows. It is admirable, albeit a little disturbing considering his age. Nevertheless, the movie clearly marks the arrival of a highly talented actor with the potential to be a star given the right roles.
It is also extremely heartening to see Jackie Chan in a real role after many years. Moving away from his usual screwball action comedy, he plays a new age Mr. Miyagi. A less refined, more weary but equally wise and caring teacher, this is a role in which Jackie Chan shines, and how! From his early silent stares to, he catches your attention and when he reveals his vulnerabilities, it is hard to believe that you are seeing the star at work. The movie marks the return of Chan the actor and it is a welcome change.
These principal performances and a screenplay that develops the story carefully and well are the reasons the movie works. In the final tournament you see the bond that has been forged and the growth of Dre from that brat who arrived to the champion that leaves with you as you exit the theatre. There are a few awkward moments where the movie seems to lose focus (like the visit to the monastery). Nevertheless, the movie comes together well as a whole. Also, ultimately, it clearly doesn’t match up to the original. If you can overlook that, this one is well worth the time.
P.S.: This will mostly be my last review in a while with exams next week followed immediately with internship etc. However, I promise to return ASAP.