Beyond all doubt and suspicion, the new Karate Kid remake is actually good. I didn’t believe it would be, hell, even during the movie I was asking myself, “how is this happening?” How indeed.
The story is essentially the same. Instead of a sarcastic New York, Italian teen out of his element in L.A., we get a 12-year-old Detroit kid out of his element in China. The kid meets his building’s handy man, who soon stops the kid from getting the shit kicked out of him (again) by a slew of angry little kung-fu masters, who then agrees to train the kid for a kung-fu match.
To enjoy the film is not to compare it. The original Karate Kid is an ‘80s classic. The cheesy music, the over-the-top villain, the blond hairdos, an Oscar-nominated Pat Morita, and a final fight scene that still inspires. Nothing can live up to it (including its three sequels). And if you treat this new flick as its own, things go pretty smoothly.
Jaden Smith - who has Jada’s smile and Will’s charm – knocks his role out of the park. He’s got fire in the right moments, perfect charisma and comic timing in other moments, an impressively toned physique that shows he did his homework, and an emotional depth that we don’t expect. He’s a star on the rise. Watch out.
Jackie Chan fills in the role of teacher, which turns out to be a surprising choice. We’ve all seen Chan throw jokes and kicks around, but I’ve never seen him care. He has a scene in this film, in which he describes a terrible car accident, that may very well be the best acting he’s ever done. Sure Mr. Han doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Mr. Miyagi, and he also lacks Morita’s candid humor. But Chan does have one brief line here that is delivered which such brilliant comic timing that it will have you laughing aloud, guaranteed.
The training scenes, somehow, are on par with the original film. Fast, enjoyable, and most importantly, believable. Like his father proved in Ali, little Jaden will have you convinced that he could seriously kick some ass.
Which brings us to the finale. Would this kid - whose only had, what, four months training in kung fu? – really be able to go pound-for-pound with young masters? Probably not. But oh well, that matters little. What remains is a compelling, adventurous remake, that, quite literally, everyone in the entire family can enjoy. Think some of the scenes are a little corny? Watch the original again (as I did directly after I got home from the remake), that flick is 100% cornball joy. Regardless how you feel after the new film’s well-executed 140 minutes, I dare you to not be hit with a brilliant wave of nostalgia as the final fight is concluded.
THIS is the ‘80s remake movie to see this weekend. Rock ‘n’ roll. B+