Movie Review: “The Karate Kid”

June 18, 2010 at 10:09 am Leave a comment

Let’s get one thing straight: this movie got it all wrong.  It’s called The Karate Kid, and there’s not a single bit of ‘karate’ in it.  It’s all kung-fu!!!!  0/10

Just kidding.

Seriously, this movie is actually pretty good.  Really good, actually.

It follows similar plot points with the John Avildsen-directed original, starring the late great Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio.  In the update, Dre (Jaden Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness), moves to Beijing with his mom, played by the wonderful Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow).  As per usual with coming-of-age stories, Smith is a fish out of water.  He’s an American in China, with no friends, and at the age when making friends actually gets rather hard.

He meets a Chinese girl (I think her name is Mei), whose parents are rather close to the family of the school’s bully (whose name escapes me).  And, of course, Mei shows an interest in Dre, which puts him at odds with the bully.

And that’s about all I want to cover with regards to the story.  Dre gets beat up, he meets Jackie Chan, and he learns kung-fu.

What surprised me about the movie is actually how much cinematic quality it has.  Director Harald Zwart and his cinematographer, Roger Pratt, do an excellent job of showing off the Beijing locales.  The sound design is also very good, with each punch and kick sounding incredibly painful.  As for the fight choreography, I thought it was well-done.  The fights don’t look like little kids playing pretend, they look like they’re trying to kill each other.

The filmmakers also knew when and how to hit upon the emotional points of the story.  From when Dre gets his first beat-down to when he dramatically rises to his feet with an almost broken leg in the finale, they play up all the crowd-pleasing moments.  And it works.

Jackie Chan also deserves credit here.  He has only one fight scene, and he doesn’t throw a single punch or kick throughout.  But, he’s good in the dramatic moments, and his character becomes the emotional rock of the movie, grounding everything in reality.  Chan isn’t better or worse than Morita’s immortal Mr. Miyagi; he is, however, an excellent compliment.

If I had to find a glaring fault in the film, it’s actually with Chan’s backstory.  While Jackie Chan does an upstanding job with the material, some of it seemed forced.

The Karate Kid is aimed toward younger audiences, but older watchers and fans of the original series will enjoy it.  The training montages are nice (there aren’t enough of those any more), and the ending is rather satisfying.  This won’t earn any awards, but it certainly makes me want to see more of Jaden Smith in the future, and definitely more of Jackie Chan in less ass-kicking roles.

8/10

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