With the exception of a change in location, the remake of “The Karate Kid” follows Mr. Miyagi’s playbook from start to finish. Director Harald Zwart (“The Pink Panther 2”) doesn’t break any new ground in this film, but he probably caused some cast members to break a bone or two.
This “Karate Kid” must leave home just like his 1984 equivalent
Like Daniel LaRusso in the 1984 original, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) must leave the home and friends that he loves because his mother (Taraji P. Henson) takes a new position with her company. Instead of California, however, Dre and his mom pack up their belongings and move to Beijing, China.
Within hours of landing in China, though, Dre runs afoul of Cheng (Zhenwei Weng), a stereotypical bully who just happens to be a top student at a local Kung Fu Academy. Dre needs some serious help dealing with his bully, and he finds it in Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the maintenance man at his apartment building. Mr. Han reluctantly agrees to teach “Shao Dre” real Kung Fu techniques so that he can meet Cheng on even terms.
The 2010 “Karate Kid” lacks the heart of the original
With all the hype surrounding this remake, the retooled “Karate Kid” is something of a disappointment. As talented as his son is on screen, it is hard not to think that Will Smith bought the rights to the original story as a starring vehicle for his son Jaden. Remaking a classic film from the 1980’s is a bold move for Smith and his son, but they fall short of their goal.
As he proved in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Jaden Smith has serious acting chops, but he seems a bit miscast in the title role. In the original, Ralph Macchio brought earnestness and sincerity to the role of Daniel LaRusso, the Newark kid who becomes a punching bag for spoiled, California rich kids. Smith brings attitude to Dre Parker, but not the heart or fighting spirit of Daniel LaRusso.
Jackie Chan reinterprets Mr. Myagi as a shuffling, unwashed maintenance man
Jackie Chan also makes a pale, 21st-Century copy of Mr. Myagi, the role made famous by the late, great Pat Morita. Unlike Mr. Myagi, who always carried himself with dignity, Chan consistently looks unwashed and unshaven as he shuffles from scene to scene. Chan tries way too hard to disguise the fact that Han actually is accomplished at Kung Fu.
Director Harald Zwart does tweak the original story a bit, switching Mr. Myagi’s karate training from manual labor to a long lesson in humility and respect. Zwart does like Jackie Chan pay homage to the famous “Wax On, Wax Off” scene that became part of the American culture, though. The other 98% of “The Karate Kid,” however, looks like a Chinese clone of the original.
If Daniel LaRusso faced off against Dre Parker on the mat, chances are good that the original “Karate Kid” would mop the floor with the new kid.
“The Karate Kid,” rated PG for bullying, martial arts action violence and some mild language, opens today in theaters.