If you are like me you sighed when learning that The Karate Kid was being remade. I couldn’t believe that Hollywood was once again reaching into the depths of the 80’s and relying on nostalgia to drum up business. To me the original Karate Kid was a quintessential 80’s movie. It was one of the best films made that year and it left an impression on many; remember when “wax-on wax-off” quickly became an instant part of pop culture.
Given that The Karate Kid was so well loved and such a success (spawning 3 sequels) I guess it should be no surprise that Hollywood was willing to give it another go. I was not planning on watching the new Karate Kid at the theater. Given that Jackie Chan was involved it’s something I planned on not missing but had relegated it to rental status.
As far as critical reaction is concerned I figured it would get dismal reviews. After all how may remakes are really that good of films? I was quite surprised when I saw that it was sitting with a Fresh rating at rottentomatoes.com. Then I read 9 Things Parents Should Know About Karate Kid from GeekDad and felt very compelled to go. I asked the family and they were surprisingly interested in seeing it also.
Whew that was a long intro, I apologize, and if you’re still with me thank you.
So as a reward I’ll cut to the chase. The Karate Kid is a wonderful film. So many things are done right I’m almost shocked at how good it is. The film is emotionally anchored by the wonderful performances of Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. The story follows the original closely but things are changed just enough that it doesn’t feel like a complete retread. I won’t go into the story details because I would guess most are familiar with it. Overall though the biggest difference being that the story takes place in China after Smith’s character Trey has moved there with his mother. If your concerned about iconic moments like wax-on wax-off, chop stick fly catching or “the Crane” finale, you won’t be disappointed in the clever ways these are presented.
What really makes this retelling work are Chan and Smith who have great chemistry. Both are very natural and never forced in their respective roles. This is something to note because Smith really shows some excellent chops (sorry couldn’t resist) as an actor. He never feels like he is acting which is often a problem with child actors. His pedigree is obvious and you can see that he has a good amount of his father’s (Will Smith) natural charm and goofiness. Chan is quite remarkable at playing the broken mentor part so perfectly that I was brought to tears more than once. Yes, Jackie Chan made me cry… somehow I think I’m not the only guy who Chan has made cry.
The film was shot mostly on location in China and is uses those locations to great effect. It’s beautifully crafted and has much more of an epic feel about it compared to the original. I was also surprised by the pacing. It could have been very easy to rush the story and bring it in at 90 minutes or so. Fortunately the filmmakers took their time. For a film aimed at kids and families it is fairly long at 2hr. 20min. but it doesn’t feel long and it gives the title character time to grow and change before your eyes. My geeklets, both girls, aged 10 and 13 watched intently and never seemed bored. When it was over they both mentioned how much better they thought it was than the original… In many ways I have to agree. It has great heart much like the original but is a fresh update without all of the signature 80’sness that seems goofy nowadays.
Bottom line: A delightful remake with heart and soul and a few life lessons thrown in for good measure. Don’t miss it.
Rated PG: In theaters now. Slight warning. Even though this carries a PG rating there is a fair amount of violence (I know big surprise for a movie titled The Karate Kid). My warning is for those who have younger children who may be sensitive to Trey being picked on and beaten twice. The brutalization is quite intense and my be hard for the little ones to understand. It’s especially difficult to watch since Trey is only 12 and small for his age.