I’m as much of a “Karate Kid” fan as the next guy, i.e., geek, of my generation. Despite its cheesy 80s feel, I still think it’s one of the finer, sports/underdog films of our time. And before you think I’m completely off my rocker, keep in mind, Pat Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.
For those of you who don’t recall the original storyline, it goes as follows. Skinny, awkwardly-dressed kid from New Jersey moves to an unfamiliar environment, befriends large-breasted, ex-girlfriend of town bully who coincidentally happens to be a black belt in karate and is trained by a deranged, Vietnam veteran. After suffering numerous beatings, kid encounters Japanese mentor with Happy Days ties who teaches him the tenets of old school karate by catching flies with chop sticks and doing random household chores. Kid ultimately beats bully in local, karate tournament, making mom, girlfriend and mentor proud. You can have your “Rudy,” I’ll take my “Karate Kid” any day of the week.
In this day and age of rehashing old 80s themes, it seems only natural to bring “Karate Kid” into the 21st century. I say so begrudgingly as an unapologetic fan of the Ralph Macchio version.
The remake starts out much like the original with Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mom (Taraji P. Henson) moving to Beijing, a touch farther than the hike from New Jersey to Reseda. While they never explain why Smith and his mom moved overseas, we can only assume it’s for work.
The new version does more than simply pay homage to the original. The storyline, and sometimes dialogue, are nearly identical.
Smith eventually befriends Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the local maintenance man, after some local kids bully him for flirting with a neighborhood girl whom he finds practicing violin on a nearby park bench. Like Macchio 25 years before him, Smith gets his ass beat early and often, the miniscule, braided foreigner an easy target. Smith may get his on-screen charisma from his father but he definitely gets his frail figure from his momma. In the remake, angry, misled, Chinese middle-schoolers replace the California, headband-wearing, high school bleach blondes of the original. Smith’s nemesis in this film might not be Billy Zabka but he has a few, menacing moments of his own.
Like Miyagi before him, Chan speaks in Confucian-like, incomplete sentences but still manages to impart the tenets of Kung Fu to Smith by having him repeatedly pick his sweatshirt up off the floor in lieu of sanding the floor or waxing his vintage car collection. Chan incorporates some nifty new techniques such as beating Smith with a boxing glove attached to a broomstick from behind a hanging bed sheet or pelting him with tennis balls to anticipate oncoming attacks.
Smith continues his love interest with the young violinist (Wenwen Han) who is later forbidden from seeing him until he recites a Chan-translated letter, Cyrano de Bergerac-style on her doorstep in front of her father. The two kids share a cute chemistry and yes, there is a kiss scene.
Again, in keeping with the original, Chan enters Smith in the city’s Kung Fu tournament to get the locals to stop bullying him. And guess who wins at the end. If you’re a fan of the original, you’d be right on the money. In fact, you could probably recite much of the script verbatim.
I’m a firm believer that some movies weren’t meant to be duplicated but “Karate Kid” might just be a worthwhile carry over for a younger generation who never saw or couldn’t relate to the original. It’s almost Disney-esque, definitely catering to the younger viewer. There are a few moments of violence in the film, including some pretty impressive Kung Fu moves but for the most part, the children in the audience seemed to really enjoy the film, which is rated PG.
At nearly two-and-a-half hours, the movie does run a little long considering it borrowed so extensively from the original script which is twenty minutes shorter. Don’t expect too many Oscar nominations out of this version, particularly from the screenplay which might as well have been copied over with tracing paper.
However, if you want to make a day of it, bring your eight to twelve year-old to see the remake, then come home and pop in the original and ask which version he or she likes best. Just be prepared to explain why we once wore short shorts and Members Only jackets.