REVIEWS

Review: Sony's The Karate Kid Shows Remakes How It's Done

by
June 11, 2010

The Karate Kid Review

There's no crane kick. No one is told to sweep the leg. Joe Esposito doesn't tell anyone they're "the Best." In fact, there's very little tugging at the heartstrings of nostalgia in The Karate Kid remake at all.  What there are, though, are solidly crafted characters and riveting moments of genuine drama all put together to aid a story we have already seen. It doesn't matter that we've seen it before, even less that we saw it three times in sequels. But this Karate Kid, unlike those sequels and unlike most Hollywood remakes, isn't interested in cookie cutter storytelling as a means to brand loyalty. This Karate Kid actually has something honest to say, and the characters, actors, and direction all come together for a rousing experience.

As I said, the basic premise is there. A young boy moves to a new location with his mother. The young boy gets pestered at school by kids who are trained in martial arts. The young boy is taught the arts by a local handyman who is also a master of the craft. The young boy enters a tournament to prove himself to everyone around him. Only, this time, the young boy isn't a teen aged Ralph Macchio but 12-year-old Jaden Smith. The boy and his mother here, instead of moving to Reseda, California, are relocated to China, which establishes a much more realistic and jarring sense of the fish out of water. The handyman is now Jackie Chan, and, if you've ever seen any of his work, you'd want him teaching you kung fu, as well.

Directed by Harald Zwart, who is known for just about anything but his subtlety, The Karate Kid builds a realistic and heartwarming relationship between the boy, Dre, and the handyman, Han. Without a father, the original film's Daniel Larusso had only Mr. Miyagi to look to as a father figure. The age change in this new film gives this sense even moreso, and the quieter moments between Dre and Han can get quite emotional.

In fact, this becomes the structure of this new Karate Kid, taking something from the previous film and changing it up to make it its own. Instead of wax on/wax off, Han has Dre perform the task of taking off his jacket and putting it on a hanger. The changing of locale to China is a significant choice, and Zwart steeps the film in the culture of its setting. There is a similar loss in Han's background to that of Mr. Miyagi, but this, too, is switched up a bit. The moment where this is revealed is intensely written and delicately directed.

This scene, among others throughout the film, allows Chan to be at his very best. Known more for his comedic roles, this more dramatic side to the actor hasn't been introduced to American audiences with much regularity. Here's hoping the flawless performance he gives in The Karate Kid changes that. Pat Morita received a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 1985 for his portrayal of Mr. Miyagi, and it would seem quite a coup for Chan to receive similar honors for this remake. It could happen, and I don't think anyone would complain.

No on ever expects much from child actors, and Smith surprises with his own emotional moments. Nothing he brings to the table is particularly exceptional, but he does his job fine especially for a 12-year-old who, it would appear, has a lot to live up to with his familial background.

But much of this success also comes from Zwart who directs The Karate Kid with an even pace.  At over two hours, the film still seems to rocket forward, never feeling bloated or like it is lounging around.  Really, the running time issue should have been handled at the script stage.  Every scene within the film moves the story on to something else, and even the youngest of audience members shouldn't become bored or fidgety.

In fact, it isn't until the film's third act and the climactic tournament that the running time is even noticed. It is at this point where the film falters the most. The tournament is just a formality, a McGuffin, if you will, to get Dre and Han connected. When it arrives, it doesn't even feel necessary, something that is made all the more evident with Zwart's direction. The martial arts moments previously seen in the film are slick, fast, and rather intense, but you know full well what is happening at all times. During the tournament, though, he falls into the trap of shooting with close-ups and jerking the camera around wildly. There really are moments in that final scene where it is difficult to tell what's going on.

Another issue, minor though it is, is in the naming. Sure, it is called The Karate Kid because it's a remake, but there is nothing Karate about this story. The term Karate is only mentioned once, and it is used as a joke between Dre and his mother. The brand management involved in calling it The Karate Kid instead of The Kung Fu Kid is more a problem with the marketing than it is with the film itself, but it's still an issue.

In the end, though, the wax on and off pays its dues, and The Karate Kid becomes a polished and elevated example of the right way to do a remake. Take the previous film's basic premise and make it your own. That is precisely what Zwart and crew do here. The Karate Kid is superb, deeply engaging and wholly entertaining. It is most importantly its own movie, and it effortlessly sidesteps out of any shadow the original film may have cast.

Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10

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  • Ace
    personally, i was hoping for the crane kick. that aside, it was definitely a fun watch.
  • If it has nothing to do with the original then why use the damn name. Technically, there is no karate in the film either... Hollywood truly is a moronic bunch. 😉
  • Brand loyalty, sir. The film is going to make over $30 million this weekend just because it is called THE KARATE KID.
  • I hate to busy your balls Jeremy :) but you totally missed the point of the title. The director and everyone involved has explained that the title (beyond just brand power) comes from Xiao Dre wanting to learn karate, so it has a bit to do with the story and his desires (remember he's out of place in China). His mom even mistakes kung fu as karate once. However, I am considering writing an article this weekend about why I think it's a bad choice for a title... You'll see why once I put it together (and it's not about inaccuracy in terms of the martial arts in it).
  • yeah….anyways
    I was going to say it's lame to call it THE KARATE KID when it's infact Kung-Fu. I still won't see this movie, I'm so sick of remakes and reboots, hollywood needs to get of it's lazy ass and turn out some good stories. I mean come on why are we getting this shit, when we need more films like The Road or Crazy Heart.
  • Duck
    I loved it! And I would be glad to see it do well because it's actually one of the remakes I really enjoyed and thought was well done.
  • Rashad
    'm so sick of remakes and reboots, hollywood needs to get of it's lazy ass and turn out some good stories." They do, you just don't watch. "I mean come on why are we getting this shit, when we need more films like The Road or Crazy Heart." It's a movie for young kids and teens, why do you care? And both those movies you listed were trite, predictable, and uninteresting.
  • beavis
    #7 *the road* was NOT" trite, predictable, and uninteresting"..........stick to movies for kids and teens because you clearly aren't ready for movies with serious themes. i try to be understanding of others opinions but that was a VERY misinformed statement - did you even watch that movie? and no, i don't think we need a remake of a movie that has had 3 sequels.
  • KING
    WHO GIVES A DAMN!!!! jus sayin that im seeing a lot of complaining about the movie. if its a good story with depth, than good, if not that well shit... sucks. we've seen what a not so great storyline movie make over 400 mil in the theaters. and im expecting prally sumone sayin sumtin after me about tellin me to shut up or worse. ima watch it tho, looks good imo
  • Shaun
    Agreed with #8, #7 should not be making ill advised statements about a movie as well made as The Road. It's all well and good if you want to stick up for The Karate Kid, but please don't disrespect great film making. As for The Karate Kid, I had no interest in seeing this, but after reading numerous reviews, My interest has been raised. Although I will probably still wait for the DVD or Blu Ray. Red Box.
  • John Hoffman
    Has anybody else seen how annoying this child is in interviews. He definitely got that from his mom's side.
  • Copperhead
    Why is everyone going crazy about this kid? Just from the previews, a monkey can tell the kid doesn't have the chops. yeah yeah yeah... just because he's somebody's kid
  • mistaac
    People are complaning about Hollywood making to many remakes. But let's put them aside for just a minute. This karate kid movie is marketed for kids. Now I'm guessing many of you loved the orignal karate kid movies. But if they came out now and you watched them you would all bitch and moan that there is no substance blaa blaa blaa. It's a kid movie. Let the children enjoy it. You don't have to go see it if you don't want to. And if your not seeing it don't post up opinons on the state of Hollywood movies. That's past boring. Let the people who this movie is marketed for enjoy it the same way you enjoyed karate kid the first time round. (trying to do the crane kick and wax on wax off)
  • Remakes are here to stay. Can't avoid them at this point, but at least this "Kid" shakes up the formula enough to warrant its existence. The China setting cuts both ways. It's great to see new vistas on the big screen - thank goodness the Kid didn't move to the Big Apple. Yawn. But the film was partially financed by China and does have a propaganda feel to it at times.
  • i just want to say that everyone who was dissing this movie before it even came out can now kiss jackie chans ass,jaden smiths ass,and MY ass because the film was GREAT and it made 56 million on its opening weekend so all you stupid ass haters should feel really stupid right now
  • This was a wonderful remake. Your review covers it very nicely and I couldn't agree more. Here's mine:http://coregeek.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/the-karate-kid-review/
  • Why the hell they deleted the kissing scene I want to watch the kissing scene but I search it on you tube but I couldn’t found it so could someone leave a comment about the website for the kissing scene so that I can watch

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