I count The Karate Kid (1984) as one of my favorite movies of all time and a bona
fide classic piece of American filmmaking. It had everything: fighting, karate,
romance, simple yet effective storyline, laughs, endearing characters, catch phrases,
and a great ending. I have watched it hundreds of times and still make time for
it every couple of months. When Columbia Pictures announced that they were creating
a remake, my first reaction was why bother? The original was movie perfection. My
second reaction was a full-blown midlife crisis. Am I really getting so old that
my favorite childhood movies need to be updated? Then I realized that 1984 was indeed
a long ass time ago, which made it all the worse. Still, I was dismayed by the announcement
and immediately put up my wall of hatred. There was no way in hell I would ever
see this travesty. Damn Columbia Pictures and everyone involved!
Then I saw the kick ass trailer a few months ago before seeing Alice in Wonderland
at the theaters. I was charmed by the new sensei, Mr. Han played by Jackie Chan.
Jaden Smith cracked a few funny lines that made me laugh and showed some great kung
fu technique. Within minutes, my usually impenetrable wall of hatred crumbled to
Opening Night 2010: I still found myself doubting that the new Karate Kid
possibly live up to even Karate Kid Part III. I read some reviews that absolutely
trashed this movie. I braced myself for the worst, but was still hopeful that the
flick was half as good as the trailer.
The remake of The Karate Kid stars Jaden Smith as Dre Parker, a kid definitely not
lacking any confidence, but who could use a lesson on discipline. Sherry (Taraji
P. Henson), his single, working-class mom, moves them to China for a career opportunity
and a chance at a new life. Dre quickly finds himself the target of a gang of bullies
when he hits on Meiying (Wenwen Han)—a Chinese girl who, presumably, the kung fu
fighting, alpha bully has a thing for. Starting to sound familiar? If you have seen
the original Karate Kid, then the path this story takes will come as no surprise.
Make no mistake about it, this story hits on all the main points of the original,
but in many ways it hits those points better. The main differences are that it takes
place in China instead of California and the age of the main character, Dre Parker,
is a few years younger than Daniel LaRusso. Oh, and the kid learns kung fu, not
The story itself is actually better executed than the original when it comes to
portraying the sense of isolation experienced by the main character. The idea of
a kid becoming a loner in China and falling victim to a group of bullies is much
more believable. This is a true foreigner in a foreign land being completely shunned,
not some Jersey hot head showing off in front of the rich California girl and pissing
off the cool kids. Also, the finishing move, dare I say it, is better than the crane
technique. It’s a move that brings both a laugh and makes you want to start the
ECW “HO-LY SHIT! HO-LY SHIT! ” chant all at once.
The relationship between the girl, Meiying, and Dre is more sincere than the
rich-poor, Montague and Capulet, love affair between “Ali with an i" and Daniel.
I never understood why Daniel even bothered with her. Ali was annoying and I
still say that she was toying with Daniel and using him to make Johnny jealous,
which worked as planned. She at least got off on having two guys fighting over
her. It didn’t help Ali’s likeability in subsequent rewatchings that the writers completely threw her under the bus in Karate Kid Part II. They explain her disappearance
from the sequel by saying
she wrecked Daniel’s car and then ran off with some college football player. Told
you she was a playa, Daniel-san. In the remake, the relationship is more of an innocent,
puppy-love type where Dre latches onto one of the few people in China his own age
that actually likes him. It’s no spoiler that they eventually share a Wonder Years-like
first kiss that mixes in a hilarious bit of comedy to break up the awkwardness.
There were a couple of areas where the new Karate Kid misses the boat. A key scene
involving Mr. Han’s beaten down old car would have been much more poignant had they
kept the classic “wax on, wax off” scenes intact. Instead they replaced all of Daniel’s
chores with “jacket on, jacket off,” which is more of a punishment than anything.
Once the big reveal occurs that all this time Dre has been learning kung fu, they
jump into some fantastic and very impressive training sequences. Dre, at 12 years
old, would beat Daniel LaRusso’s ass in a fight. Just throwing it out there. Bruce
Lee Roy from The Last Dragon would destroy them both, though. He’s got the glow.
Where the new Karate Kid fails to live up to the original, and what ultimately prevents
it from becoming great, is the comparative lack of chemistry between Jackie Chan
and Jaden Smith. In the original movie, the friendship between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel
was rare movie magic. It appeared completely genuine and was developed slowly over
the course of the movie. In the remake, Mr. Han just randomly appears and saves
the day when Dre is getting his ass kicked by six bullies at once. Mr. Miyagi and
Daniel already had a months long friendship established by this point in the original.
Mr. Han and Dre barely knew each other when Mr. Han saves the day—in fact, it seemed
as if Mr. Han didn’t really like kid at the time and just drops in because the 6-to-1
odds are unfair. The friendship feels forced at first, but eventually they come
around; you do not feel a great bond develop between Dre and Mr. Han until much
later in the movie when Mr. Han breaks down in a touching scene that reveals much
about his past.
Hearing Pat Morita’s masterfully delivered lines repeated word-for-word by Jackie
Chan in his legitimately broken English leaves a lot to be desired. I appreciate
the effort by Jackie Chan, who is known to struggle with English dialogue in movies,
but Pat Morita was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Mr. Miyagi. This
remake only reiterates what a brilliant performance Pat Morita brought
to the table in 1984. Mr. Han almost sounds robotic at times when repeating these
familiar lines with little inflection and emotion. Jackie Chan is still good in
this movie and fills the role of missing father-figure/teacher with ease, but he’ll
never be nominated for any awards. Jackie Chan’s martial arts are obviously much
more believable and impressive than Pat Morita’s. In the acting department, however,
Mr. Miyagi is still the master.
There are probably a hundred winks and nods to the original movie. If you are like
me and have seen the original countless times, then you will find yourself laughing
in appreciation at every single one of them. They unfortunately left out one of
the greatest lines ever delivered in movie history:
“Get him a bodybag! Yeaaaaaahhhh! Hahahahahahahahaha!”
If the writers had found a way to include this piece of Hollywood gold, then I would
this review would have consisted of three words: “Greatest. Movie. EVAR.”
The new Karate Kid is an enjoyable and charming movie for old fans and new ones alike. I had
the good fortune of attending the movie with a friend that had never seen the originals.
It was an interesting experiment to see someone who didn’t have original script
memorized watch this story play out for the first time. The magic is still there
even today; she loved the movie and now wants to see the originals. How is it possible
to be a child of the 80’s and not have seen Karate Kid? And, more importantly, how
did I let this deprivation continue unchecked for so many years? I take full responsibility
for this oversight and will now have to ask every person I know if they have ever
seen the original Karate Kid. The ones who haven’t will be invited over to watch
it in high definition magnificence.
Don’t listen to the cynics who call this movie worthless garbage. They are just
grumpy and old. This is a pure, feel good, well played, and familiar underdog story
that is well deserving of the title Karate Kid. Even if it is actually kung fu.