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The Karate Kid Remake Manages Not to Damage Your Childhood

The Karate Kid
Directed by Harald Zwart
Written by Christopher Murphey from a story by Robert Mark Kamen
Sony, 2010

So, here’s a movie that didn’t need to get remade.  1984’s The Karate Kid is a beloved film of my generation, a movie that was a must multiple-viewing experience like The Goonies or Gremlins or Back to the Future.  Remakes are an odd species.  Ask most people what kinds of movies need to be remade, it’s the ones that didn’t quite succeed the first time.  Yet, every once in awhile, we get something like this, and it’s puzzling and mysteriously painful that anyone would want to re-do it.  Like, hey, I love the first one…what’s wrong with the first one?  Or like when George Lucas decided that his original Star Wars movies didn’t quite have enough digital clutter the first time.  There’s something oddly insulting about the idea of updating something you already love as-is.

Even more eye-rolling was when I heard Will Smith’s kid Jaden was going to be the new Karate Kid.  Last time we saw Jaden, he was going about the business of making the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still an unholy, unpleasant experience full of whining.  And there’s something about really, really confident (overconfident, or cocky) kids that is a little unsettling, but considering his DNA of Will and Jada Pinkett, I guess the little guy really had no choice but to act like he already owns a mansion and has a live-in supermodel girlfriend.  Luckily, this movie and his performance are not a disaster at all, and actually quite good in the end.

Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mom Sherry (the always fun Taraji P. Henson) have lost the man in the family and she gets transferred to Beijing from Detroit.  So, the Parkers have to adjust to the new life, with Dre quickly getting a beat-down from the movie’s bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang).  Dre has an immediate love interest in Mei Ying (Wenwen Han) which really upsets Cheng, who seems to appear in every nook and cranny of Dre’s operating space.  School: he’s there.  Try to enter a kung fu dojo: yep, he’s there.  Speaking of which, this movie is about kung fu, not karate, and well, it’s easy to see why they stuck with The Karate Kid, because that’s a brand name, and Kung Fu Kid is not.  So yeah, just a minor detail that no one needs to worry about, because you likely don’t know the difference anyway (I sure don’t).

Dre receives yet another beat-down and is rescued by Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) from further beating down from Cheng and his gang of jerk fighters that are merely Chinese versions of the original’s Cobra Kai.  Han agrees to teach Dre kung fu and accepts a challenge from Master Li (Rongguang Yu) to enter Dre into a tournament. In exchange, his students have to leave Dre alone.  But if Dre doesn’t show up for the tournament, his kids will have open season on him all day long.  Much like the original Karate Kid, Han’s methods are as puzzling as Mr. Miyagi’s, movements that seem puzzling and unimportant but turn out to be the basis for good, sound kung fu.

Surprisingly, this movie manages not to be completely insulting, with distant echoes of an homage to the original (the fly and the chopsticks, wax-on/wax-off, sweep the leg, etc).  Had there not been an original to compare this to, this would be able to stand on its own, although I’m not sure that this version will hold the same cultural resonance that the original does.  It’s a nice, solid family flick (with a couple of swears and violence) that immersed me in a good, classic story.  And this summer, that’s been frightfully missing.

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