“The Karate Kid” Movie Review


     I read over a year ago that "The Karate Kid" was being remade as a vehicle for Will Smith's son Jaden Smith and I was less than excited about the prospects of such a project.  I felt, at the time, it should be illegal to tamper with such a classic film and in no way would I have ever thought it would be possible to recreate the feelings I once had as a child watching the original in 1984. "Wax on wax off", "Sweep the leg", the Crane  Technique, I mean we are talking about a legend here, why in the world would someone want to tamper with it?

     So, feeling a responsibility to do so for this blog, I had to drag my wife (you have no idea what I went through to get her to go, if she happens to comment below, take it with a grain of salt.  She didn’t like the original either!) to the highly anticipated "Karate Kid" retelling and I am happy to report I haven't seen a better film so far this year.  I exited the theater overcome with exhilaration and had feelings I haven't had since, well 1984.  That's where I came to realize it is the story, plain and simple, which brings the new film to such heights.  Kind of like the many retellings of Shakespeare, The Karate Kid has become a now age old tale which has the ability to transcend generations to come.  The kind of story a father tells his son with pride.

     If you've seen the original than you already know the story arc the new film will follow, as it is basically the same. I've already referred to this film as a "retelling" rather than a remake because the story is really all it has in common with the original.  The setting is now Beijing, China.  The martial art is Kung Fu rather than Karate. The character made famous by the late Pat Morita, Mr. Miagi, is played by Jackie Chan but in this film his name is Mr. Hahn. The role made famous by Ralph Macchio, Daniel, is played by Jaden Smith but in this film his name is Dre.  All of these changes set this film apart from the original.

     The film takes full advantage of the locale.  Beijing plays a major role with it's breathtaking locations and it's vast inner city culture. This really was a great decision by the filmmakers and adds to the mystique.  In the original, Daniel moved from the east to west coast.  Here Dre is definitely a fish out of water and when the bullies come, you really feel for him.

     Enter Jackie Chan, whose role is my favorite in the film.  As I've used the term "retelling" several times, it really applies with Chan's character.  Yes, he exudes the same Mr. Miagi values towards fighting, but he really makes this role his own by mentoring Dre in an art which seems much more complex in this film than in the original.  After seeing Jackie Chan limited to endless fight scenes and one liners in his many American films, it was great to see Chan finally have a role requiring him to act. I think his casting was one of the first steps the producers took in making such a fine film.

     Jaden Smith definitely holds his own as well.  The training sequences indicate to me he must have put in hours of preparation and the hard work really shows in the finished product.  The tournament scenes are excellent and the Kung Fu techniques are very impressive.  Switching to Kung Fu was another decision which initially had me scratching my head, but I can now see the reason.  Along with the change in setting, switching to Kung Fu allowed for a different approach to training and a new signature move at the end, like The Crane in the original.  This not only gave the new film it's own visual style, but also its own spiritual style, one tailored closely to Jackie Chan.

     Every story like this needs a great villain and this film succeeds in that area, perhaps even better than the original.  Because of its China location, martial arts are the lives of many of the people in the film.  Whereas the original had a small dojo with a few kids, the dojo where our resident bullies train is full on martial arts Disneyland.  Think “Enter the Dragon” and you’ll have an idea.  The original’s instructor was reckless.  This instructor is so disciplined, so stone faced, and so intimidating, you wouldn’t want to be one of his students let alone one of his enemies.  You get the feeling he would order your death and leave you for the dogs.  I never felt that about the Cobra Kai instructor in the original.  As a result of this method of teaching, the bullies in this film are tougher and out for blood.  All the more of an obstacle for Dre to overcome.

     If you are a fan of the 1984 original, than I really can't imagine you not being impressed by this film.  It's modern update will appeal to a new generation and will likely peak curiosity in the original film and it's sequels, which would not be a bad thing.  This is a story which should be told.  It inspires dedication, determination, and the mindset to succeed no matter what the odds.  Like it's close cousin Rocky, The Karate Kid was pure filmmaking  genius.  This well done retelling not only does the original justice, it brings it new found heights. GRADE: A-