I want to start off by saying this film will never compare to the first. Remakes never do! The original nurtures an audience by embracing the power and meaning of the story. It breaks it down in detail and allows us to FEEL for everyone. This would also include the antagonist. However; there’s a feeling of emptiness this time around. The sense of appealing more towards a tween-like audience is quite clear. Why? I’ll tell you! This film doesn’t allow it to constrict itself with the small story-line that builds its core. On the flip side, it embarks us on a journey to China and its visual ecstasies, great combat choreography and an okay score. All condensed makes the movie feel like something of an epic-like presentation instead of a small coming-of-age story. This made me feel like it’s more of an adventurous kiddy flick and not an appealing life lesson…
No need to get into the story as we’re all aware what The Karate Kid is about. The good part of this remake (as it wasn’t all bad) is the actual casting of a kid. Although the first time around the young looking 25 year old Ralph Macchio was able to pull it off, however; his jovial looks weren’t fooling anyone who knew his age. That seems to always be overlooked as the film’s beauty, balance and pacing was smoothly presented, there’s no room for criticism… especially with the chemistry he had on screen with Pat Morita. That didn’t stop many from questioning the decision to make the lead in this movie so young, but it would be hard for the film to find the relationship between the mentor and an older student, and even more during contemporary times. There was warmth and appeal as Mr. Han (Chan) and Dre (Smith) use their training to reveal their characters and grow together. This relationship allows the film not to lose its coming-of-age theme. Although it may have seemed authentic, there were many times where I felt I needed more. There was lots that was shared between “Daniel” and “Mr. Myagi.” With “Han” and “Dre” it seemed rushed. Sort of in motion of we the audience filling in whatever blanks we felt fit, but it worked and allowed me to enjoy the film’s layers as it movied it along. Soemthing I enjoyed a lot were scenes where Dre’s insecurities in a new place were displayed. It isn’t as easy for anyone to move to a place unknown to us, especially as a kid going from one country to another. Daniel went from Newark, NJ to Los Angeles, CA. YES, different in MANY ways, but socially there are many similarities due to having stayed in the same country.
What came off really bland for me was Dre’s mom played by Taraji P. Henson. She may as well not even have been in this movie at all. We’re given ZERO backstory about her, it’s quickly mentioned, but have no idea why she decided to move to China, and the only hint of a relationship she has with her son is that she doesn’t want him to throw his jacket on the ground (seriously, this is a MAJOR issue for this character). You’d think that a mother who just moved her son to a foreign country would want to be somewhat involved in his life. Instead, she functions merely as a plot device who hangs around in the background. A missed opportunity. It was cheap and so unrealistic it made me sick. In the original there was a lot of concern towards her son. Remember that? She questioned everything and wanted to make sure her son was happy at all cost. There was even a point where she was going to let everything go in LA and move back to Newark.
I also had issues with the bully. Remember Johnny was mixed in an on and off again relationship with Ali (with an I)? The stakes raised for him when feeling threatened once Daniel came into the picture and mismanaged by his karate instructor and group of friends who pushed him to the edge… At least there was a sense of reason for Johnny to have been the “bad guy” and carry a major part of the film influencing Daniel to train. In this version, the bully has NO reason whatsoever to pick on Dre. It’s just a simple form of bully not liking someone. I mean come on, even during the age of 11 or 12 there’s a reason to “justify” not liking another kid. I mean NOTHING at all is presented. Yes, there’s the girl that befriends Dre, but even that was a cheap reason for the beatings Dre took. Why? Well, because it’s not like… Oh, you know what? Just go see the flick and you’ll see what I’m talking about. (I also thought kids from Detroit were tough? It seemed like of all the kids in that part of the U.S., Dre was the only wuss to walk its streets. One would think a sense of American pride and impulse would exist. Isn’t that what all Americans do when they visit or move to other countries?)
The Karate Kid has a clear goal in mind: It wants to tell a story in a way that will excite a young audience with an adventurous feel. And with that in mind, this film will carry success (especially with the powerful SMITH name behind it) as it’ll tap into a new generation. The fight scenes are thrilling and the film just looks gorgeous as Mr. Han and Dre’s training takes them from The Great Wall to the Forbidden City, all with a sense of wonder and grandeur that builds an excitement that spreads well beyond the confines of the small story, making it somewhat epic. Howver; there are downers in the film. At about a dragging 2 hours, this film sticks around way too long – especially for a kid’s flick. The strange thing is that it does this without any exposition or denouement whatsoever – it’s entirely the middle which causes this feeling of endless dragging. There’s a long stretch where the film lacks any real momentum. It goes off into several different directions and just sort of sits around waiting for the end. There are a lot of subplots that could be trimmed or even removed and Dre’s introduction to the bullies stays around much longer than it needs to in order to make an impact. It rambles too much and misses several opportunities to reveal something about the Parker family other than that they moved to China and the son gets beat up a lot, but that would only be necessary in a film looking for depth. This movie doesn’t concern itself with that: It wants to entertain kids and it does it very well.
I’ll stay with the 80’s version, thank you! Oh, yeah, they tried, but it wasn’t as powerful. I’m talking about those great one-liners like “Sweep the leg” or “Get him a body bag! Yeah!” [Laughing] or dialog like:
Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like?
Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant…
Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.
[laughs; then, seriously]
[taps his head]
Miyagi: Karate here.
[taps his heart]
Miyagi: Karate here.
[points to his belt]
Miyagi: Karate never here. Understand?
GENRE: Action/Adventure, Remake and Sports
ROARS: 3.5 Out of 5
Rated: PG / Run Time: 140 Min.
CAST: Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan
DIRECTOR: Harald Zwart