One of my favorite movies from the ’80s was The Karate Kid. Who doesn’t love movies about underdogs anyway? Ralph Macchio was a thin, frail-looking guy who doesn’t really look like anyone who can beat someone almost twice his size and with years of karate lessons on his black belt backing him up but we like stories about overcoming adversity. The Karate Kid became a classic – a sleeper movie like so many other movies from that decade. There was really no need to do a remake but my interest was piqued when I first saw the preview from The Karate Kid 2010 Version with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. I was quite sure it would be just a retelling of the original only with different actors and different location. However, after seeing the movie this weekend, I have to admit that Jaden Smith’s The Karate Kid can very well stand on its own.
The Karate Kid managed to keep the main highlights of the original film but updated to be more in tune with current times. Dre and his mother moved from Detroit to Beijing, a casualty of the slowdown in automotive manufacturing. In today’s globalization of the job market, it’s no longer uncommon for people here in the US to work as expats in another country so this situation is something plenty of folks nowadays can relate to. His situation, though, is much more complicated than that of Daniel’s in the 80’s as Dre not only has to contend with moving starting over in a new place; he also has the cultural differences and language barriers with which to contend. He had difficulty adjusting to his new life. Though he did make friends with a Chinese girl from school, the other kids didn’t accept him which resulted in him being bullied quite regularly. Same as in the original movie, he was taken on by an unlikely karate master, Mr. Han, under his tutelage to help him deal with the bullies and taught him more than just karate.
It was a wonderful movie. It managed to show the complications of moving to another country – the difficulty in dealing with the language barriers, the culture shock and with fitting in to the new environment. Shot entirely in China (except for the beginning part of the movie), the sites shown were beautiful and gave credence to the process that Dre had to go through. “Wax on, wax off” became “jacket on, jacket off”. Jackie Chan was great in his role as Mr. Han and Jaden Smith showed his natural ability as an actor. The had great chemistry onscreen, and, based on the audiences reaction in the theater, had no trouble at all in making their characters come alive. The supporting cast did an excellent job as well. The kids who were bullying Dre had excellent martial art skills and were truly a force to contend with which helped show that bullying is very much a cross-cultural problem and can be a very tricky issue to resolve.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Karate Kid. Although the original is still very much the well-loved classic and can never be replaced by a remake, this new version gave the next generation their own Daniel San as their personal champion. What I found most interesting is that a lot of the movie-goers were most likely people same age as me bringing their kids to a remake of a movie they loved in the 80’s. A lot of those in the audiences were kids whereas I remember the The Karate Kid being more of a teenage movie than a family flick. Perhaps the GenX folks would have wanted to invoke the same feelings that they had when they watched Daniel San fight the Cobra Kai over 25 years ago to their kids. If so, then I could tell from the cheering at the end of the film that they were able to do exactly that.
My verdict: This movie is definitely a must-see. In this age of mostly CGI flicks, The Karate Kid is a breath of fresh air as there was hardly any CGI involved in the making of this film. The action shots were amazing and the breadth and beauty of China provided an excellent backdrop in the tale of Dre’s journey from an underdog to karate champion. The Karate Kid is truly an enjoyable movie.