The Karate Kid (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Karate Kid (2010)

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ANDREW LIKENow this was a pleasant surprise.  I've railed at length about remakes this year and how a total lack of imagination is ruining the film industry.  So if you find me a hypocrite for this, allow me to allow a footnote for The Karate Kid.  It's a rare remake that captures what was endearing about the original, and transposes it into a new setting that allows for a fun examination of different cultures.

It's not going to win any awards, but it had me smiling quite a bit and cheering Dre (Jaden Smith) on the whole time.

For those that don't have a fascination with the original, The Karate Kid follows a classic fish out of water tale.  Dre and his mother Sherry (wonderfully played by Taraji P. Henson) move to China for a fresh start shortly after Dre's father dies.  A drastic shift, but stick with it.  Shortly after arriving, Dre becomes the target of a gaggle of bullies that dislike the fact that Dre has captured the eye of the local cutie, Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han).

Then the mysterious maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) comes to Dre's rescue one day when he's being beaten up.  The two strike up a friendship, and while Dre learns to defend himself from Mr. Han, Mr. Han begins to slowly heal a broken spirit from an incident years ago.

There's a great payoff for every call back to the original.

This is all done in great fun.  The friendship between Dre and Dr. Han never feels like an awkward contrivance of the plot.  We have Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith's performances to thank for this, as their onscreen chemistry forms a nice bond to play out.  The real standout is Taraji P. Henson.  She's given a normally thankless role as Dre's mother, but the screenplay actually makes her a vital part of Dre's life and let's her play out some scenes of real pain and happiness as Dre works through his loneliness.

The Karate Kid also makes great use of it's Beijing setting.  There's no attempt to hid the splendor of China and the story takes us to the Forbidden Temple, the Great Wall, and numerous other locales.  They're all fantastically shot, which did surprise me since this is both a remake and a film mostly for kids, and the film could almost function as a brochure for what to see if you ever visit.  It's not The Last Emperor but there are enough lovely shots that even a cineaste like myself could respect the effort that went into their production.

Then there are the classic training montages.  For those familiar with the original, Mr. Han's training techniques (take the jacket off, put it on the hook) offer well played variations of the Mr. Miyagi originals (wax on, was off).  Even the more deliberate throwbacks to the original film come off as organic to this one, and aren't played for a hokey nostalgia factor but function well as their own set pieces.  The first "fight scene" with Mr. Han is great as he is being attacked by, essentially, children and he pushes and redirects them away from Dre.  It could have been off-putting, but Jackie Chan gives it a bit of his classic charm and it becomes a nice moment of entertainment.

I have to admit, I was a bit teary up at this point in the story.  It makes sense, I promise.

The only real complaint I have against the film is it's run-time.  It's about 15 minutes longer than the original and it doesn't wear that extra time well.  I definitely do not want to distract from the lovely shots in and around Beijing, but there are a few too many moments in the beginning where Dre is flirting or getting bullied that take away from the real meat of the film.  That said, when Dre is training, bonding with Mr. Han, or spending time with his mom I wasn't bored.

Would I have liked to see the same effort go into an original production?  Well, this is one of those cases where it's more a nice thought but can't be supported by the results.  The Karate Kid is a great remake, a pretty fun film in it's own right, and certainly won't let anyone down.  Especially if you happen to be a fan of Jackie Chan.  He might not be as memorable as Pat Morita's original, but he relishes every moment onscreen and that same spirit found its way into my experience.

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The Karate Kid (2010)

Directed by Harald Zwart.
Written by Christopher Murphy.
Starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan, Taraji P. Henson and Wen Wen Han.

Posted by Andrew

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