"The Karate Kid"
Will Smith scion Jaden and action star Jackie Chan have big “gis” to fill in the new remake of the 1984 classic, The Karate Kid.
Twelve year-old Detroit expat Dre Parker (Smith) is not fitting-in well at his new Beijing school. He knows little about the language and less about the protocol. Distracting a local girl from her violin practice, one afternoon, puts him on the wrong side of a bully named Cheng, leaving him little choice but to fight back.
After observing Dre futilely prepare, and later intervening in the boy’s shellacking, Mr. Han (Chan), the building maintenance man, agrees to take him under his tutelage. Han visits the Kung Fu school where the boys are wrongfully taught a darker application of the discipline: “No weakness. No pain. No mercy.” He convinces the master there to agree to a tournament to settle the matter. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Karate Kid is a dignified retelling of a revered film. Jackie Chan is restrained, nothing at all like either his Rush Hour Detective Lee or Pat Morita’s original and more likable sensei, Mr. Miyagi. Neither is Jaden Smith’s broody Dre reminiscent of Daniel LaRusso, Ralph Macchio’s archetypal Newark to Reseda transplant. Nonetheless, they’re good fits for a film that feels richer than it is cliché (and let’s be honest, any martial arts movie that manages to avoid the Carl Douglas song “Kung Fu Fighting” is automatically pretty remarkable).
But there’s a cost. Much of what made the original a fixture of pop culture is absent. Macchio’s Jersey boy. Miyagi’s wit. These couldn’t be improved so it’s wise that they didn’t try. They’re missed, of course, though not nearly as much as marked high points like Daniel’s climactic execution of the ‘wounded crane’ or that moment when he realizes ‘wax on, wax off’ and ‘paint the fence’ weren’t chores after all, but defensive techniques. This one’s much more measured. That doesn’t make it worse, it just makes it different … and, apparently, extremely popular.
The Karate Kid topped the box office its opening weekend, twice-over besting another 80s fixture: The A-Team which alienated at least one original cast member (Mr. T refused a cameo). On the contrary, Macchio embraced this one as “a testament to the legacy that we created.” That may be a little too much back-patting for someone whose last major role was as a “yute” opposite The Munster’s Fred Gwynne.
Yes, the original was formidable, but this one’s no slouching tiger.
It’s a good film, a great story, and a respectable remake.
MPAA Rating: PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language.
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