Movie Review: The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan and Taraji P. Henson

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.

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23 Replies to “Movie Review: The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan and Taraji P. Henson”

  1. Chris

    As you know I’m an avid martial artist. But Jaden Smith in the main role ? I know that his parents are the producers of the movie but this nepotism thing has gone a little bit too far .

    Does that mean that when Hollywood decides to redo ” Debbie Does Dallas” we’ll get to see either one of the Olsen twins or one of the Simpson sisters in the title role ?

    Still the movie will make money as Hollywood does like to pile on the treacle and syrupy stories with a pedantic plotline. And no doubt get to see Hollywood’s stereotypical treatment of the Far Eastern culture. Much as in the same way we had their early treatment of the Native American Indian.

    Thank God they didn’t set the plot in the Middle East or it’d have been open season on the Arabs and Islam .



  2. Al…

    The original, for me at least, is one of those guilty pleasures.

    You’re right. The film will make its fair share at the box office but it in my eyes, it just doesn’t compare.

  3. Certainly I can remember the original and would put it up there with my favorite mindless entertainment stories. The issues that presented themselves then, transcend just the value of movie in and of itself. The sense of family, self worth, the no quit mentality required for anyone to be successful in anything they do in life. Belief in yourself…yada yada yada…And while I haven’t seen the new version just yet, from the previews, (unless it’s special effects), you have to be impressed with the newly developed skill sets that Jaden displays. I can only imagine the training he had to go through to pull that off. That high kick is impressive!!! Keep ion mind that very few remakes of anything are ever better than or as good as the original.

  4. Great read. Wasn’t sure you’d like the remake but thought this review was a nice combo of then ‘ now “grasshopper” ( ok, ok so that was David Carridine in Kung Fu but same period in time, right?).
    Good job Sportschump 😉

  5. Yo Geek!! (I say that in a takes 1 to know sorta way) Thanks for the review…Not that I had any intention in seeing it till dvd:) However, I just had to comment/advocate for Al’s idea of the new Debbie Does Everybody!! Love it!!! It was my 1st and will always have a special place in my ….well you get the idea! I’m all for the re-make!! Heck let’s produce it! Just another Sat. night:) in title town!! BTW don’t read this “M”

  6. Chris

    It probably cost under $50 million to make. If it takes upwards of $80 to $100 million worldwide, then they’ll have recouped the costs including the marketing of the movie.

    Well England seems to have a battle on its hands against the US . English goalie Robert Green has now become persona-non-grata in the East End of London. I’m tele-conferencing with my brother and his buddies who are watching the game in a pub. And they’re questioning the kid’s birthright after the easy goal that he let in .


    Now comes the hard part for him upon his return to the East End. There’ll be no place where he can hide as they’re liable to stone his a_s . And I can’t say that I’d blame them for wanting to do so !


  7. What movie these days, other than Clerks, Al, costs that little to make. Although I will say there was some beautiful scenery in the movie. Not quite as breathtaking as a young Elisabeth Shue, though.

    Good thing Green doesn’t play for the Colombian team, Al. He’d wake up with a horse’s head in his bed… or worse.

  8. Chris

    Well my brother is proposing to put a “hit” out on Green. The English keeper plays for the local hometown team where we were both born . My brother is an avid supporter of West Ham. But as of now Green is persona-non-grata in his eyes.

    Blair Witch Project cost $15000 to make and went to gross $175 million at the box office in North America alone.

    Well No Good Can Come From Being A Lame Duck …..

    My thoughts and observations on the England US game.


  9. Al…

    If you find some good English articles trashing Green, by all means send ’em my way. I’d love to read ’em.

    Be right over to check out yours.

  10. Factual errors in your “review” and in your comments (“Blair Witch cost” etc.)
    Stick to, ah, Sports.

  11. I think I’m going to pass on this one. I guess they filmed it close to one of the places we visited on the great wall… I think they should’ve left this one in the 80’s, but if the younger generation enjoys it as much as I enjoyed the original then it was worth making!

  12. Nice review. Pat Morita was nominated for an Oscar for that role? Didn’t know that…but he was pretty solid. So along with Elisabeth Shue (of Leaving Las Vegas fame) there were two academy award caliber performers in Kid I…interesting. When can we expect your next movie review, Roger?


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